Filed under: Children
Military kids are resilient in the face of unique challenges, but also might need extra emotional support along the way. They can experience struggles other children don’t face, such as their parents’ deployment. We don’t know the entire impact a parent’s deployment has on children, but some younger children seem to struggle more post-deployment. And kids mental health problems tend to increase when a parent returns injured.
Some parents or caregivers might see signs of anxiety in 3–5-year-olds with a parent on long-term deployment. These symptoms could include kids expressing lots of worries and repeatedly asking for reassurance. Some might also complain of physical symptoms, such as a headache or stomachache. Yet it’s also possible that some don’t experience any physical or emotional distress during their parent’s deployment. Overall, military kids tend to be resilient when a parent is deployed.
Still, military kids, like all kids, sometimes experience mental health concerns, including thoughts of suicide, anxiety, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and cognitive and mood disorders. The percentage of military kids diagnosed with one or more concerns has increased over the past several years. This mirrors what’s happening in civilian families, possibly because pediatricians are getting better at diagnosing and/or referring children for mental health care.
If you suspect your child needs help, supports and resources are available. Consider using Military OneSource’s confidential video non-medical counseling services for active duty families, including kids and teens. Your children also can connect with other military kids at Military Kids Connect. This site offers help for kids coping with a parent’s deployment too.
In the meantime, visit HPRC’s Family Resilience section for tips on managing family stress and improving family relationships, which are important for kids’ strong mental health.
The military lifestyle can sometimes make parenting especially challenging, but there’s a website designed to help active-duty military and veteran parents. It’s a joint project between the Department of Veterans Affairs and the National Center for Telehealth and Technology. The website offers a free parenting course and additional resources, including tip sheets and videos. There’s an opportunity to provide feedback on the parenting course too.
Course topics and other resources include:
- Communicating with your child
- Helping your child manage emotions and behaviors
- Taking a positive approach to discipline
- Managing your own stress and emotions
- Talking about deployment
If you’re a grandparent transitioning into the role of parenting your grandchildren, it’s probably stressful. But you can face this stress. Start by acknowledging why this round of parenthood is different. The emotional support you have available now is likely different than when you were parenting earlier in life. Before, your peers were other parents raising children at home, whereas this is less likely now.
Contact with friends might drop off. Family tensions might exist. Other common challenges include changes in routine, more physical fatigue, less privacy, and less time to get things done. Your situation can, at times, feel like an invisible burden. It’s normal to sometimes experience resentment, which can easily be misdirected towards your partner or others around you. These stresses can take their toll on you and your relationships. Be proactive.
Help is available if you need it. Consider local or online support groups or even parenting classes to get refreshers on discipline styles and communication. Single grandparents can learn useful strategies in a parenting class, and partners can learn to develop a unified parenting approach. As your grandchildren get older, you could consider parenting refreshers on drug use and sexuality. You might also learn about modern parenting dilemmas associated with technology and social media.
Some grandparents seek individual, couples, or family counseling to address possible tensions. Despite the challenges, many grandparents in similar situations report feeling a greater sense of purpose. Consider checking out family resources available to you via HPRC, and the University of Wisconsin's resources specifically focused on grandparents.
Forgiveness can help you adapt, embrace flexibility, be happier, and move through resentment in your relationships. Balancing children, career, and your marriage is difficult enough; adding deployments to the mix can lead to eruptions with family members. Meditation has been has been shown to help people lower stress their levels and become more forgiving. To reduce friction with your partner or children, consider following these steps associated with forgiveness meditations:
- Take a time-out, and find a quite space to calm down.
- Relax and focus on slowing your breathing.
- Recall times of closeness and connection with your spouse and children.
- Develop awareness of your reactions, and patiently find your way to forgiveness.
Children and teens face a lot of challenges these days, but exercise can help, even in such seemingly unrelated situations as bullying, a form of peer aggression. Bullying recently has come to the forefront as a public health concern. While the best solution is to prevent it, there are ways to cope and manage the effects of being bullied (such as depression, sadness, and decreased self-worth). Exercise can serve as a buffer against effects of being bullied. Bullied teens who regularly exercise at least 60 minutes a day, 4 days a week, are less likely to experience sadness or hopelessness. That’s important when you also consider that these feelings sometimes lead to suicidal thoughts or attempts among teens. Encouraging your child to participate in some kind of physical activity can help him or her conquer social obstacles while building good habits for a healthy adulthood. By also making physical activity a family matter, you can lead by example. Learn more about how to prevent bullying and consult a healthcare professional and a school counselor if you’re concerned that your child might be a victim of bullying.
If you’re considering giving birth at home, make an informed choice, including a plan that lays out expenses, your nearest hospital, your delivery team, and more. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American College of Obstetrician and Gynecologists (ACOG) both say that hospitals and birthing centers are the safest places for birth in the U.S. However, they also recognize the right to make a medically informed decision about where and how to give birth. If you’re considering home birth, here are some specific suggestions to help you make safe decisions. Read more here.
Roughly one in 3 children in the U.S. is overweight or obese, but you can do something about it. Obese children are more likely to be obese as adults and at risk for diabetes and other health conditions, so it’s important to act early. September is Childhood Obesity Month, so there’s no better time to start.
Let’s Go! is a childhood obesity prevention program to help kids eat better, be more physically active, and live healthier lives. Just remember their “5-2-1-0” countdown message:
5 – Get your kids to eat at least 5 fruits and vegetables every day. Make it fun with kid-friendly recipes. Let your kids choose fruits and veggies at the store that they want to try, help prepare meals and snacks in the kitchen, or even plant a vegetable garden together.
2 – Cut down kids’ screen time to 2 hours or less a day. (No screen time for those under 2.) Get them to try other ways to be entertained, such as playing a game or going on a scavenger hunt. These types of activities will get your kids’ bodies and minds working.
1 – Kids need at least one hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day. Sound like a lot? Just think of it as playing instead of exercise! Make it a family affair. Go to the playground, play a sport, or simply go for a walk around the neighborhood together.
0 – Zero sugar-sweetened sodas, sports drinks, and fruit drinks. Instead, have your kids drink water and fat-free or one-percent milk. If your kids aren’t fans of plain water, add a little pizazz with some sliced berries, citrus fruits, melons, or kiwis. And they can eat the fruit when they’re finished drinking!
For more information, tips, and resources, please visit Let’s Go!
The condition known as “dental caries” is the most common and chronic childhood illness, but you can help your child avoid it. Bacteria that build up on your children’s teeth and produce acid can destroy enamel and dentin, leading to decay, infection, and cavities. Thankfully, there are a few simple ways to prevent this.
- If your young child uses bottles, make sure you put your child to sleep without a bottle.
- Avoid continual use of a bottle or sippy cup, especially with fluids other than water.
- Limit sugary foods and drinks, and the latter should include only 100% juice.
- Allow less than 4–6 oz. of 100% fruit juice per day.
- Start brushing your child’s teeth twice a day as soon as their teeth are visible.
- Use no more than a pea size dot of fluoride toothpaste for children 3 and up and a dab the size of a grain of rice for younger children.
- Take your child to a dentist before the age of one.
- Parents and caregivers can spread bacteria to babies and children accidentally, so take care of your own teeth! And it’s a good idea not to put food or other items into your child’s mouth after they’ve been in your mouth, especially if you have a history of cavities.
If you use these simple tips, you can strengthen your child’s teeth throughout childhood. For more information, check out the American Academy of Pediatrics article “Brushing up on oral health: never too early to start.”
Helping your kids limit their screen time can be difficult, but it could be the key to keeping your kids healthy. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting the total amount of entertainment screen time to only 1–2 hours a day, with no screen time for kids under the age of two. Yet the average 8-year-old spends 8 hours a day in front of a screen, and teenagers can even exceed 11 hours a day. That’s a lot of sitting around! The more time kids sit in front of a screen, the less time they spend being active, and the more likely they are to become overweight.
Here are some tips to help reduce screen time and, in turn, promote fitness:
- Keep the TV and Internet-enabled devices out of bedrooms.
- Stay informed: Monitor what media your kids are using, such as websites or social media applications.
- Watch movies and shows with your children. As a bonus you can use the entertainment as a way of discussing important family values and finding out what they think about certain scenarios.
- Make a family home-use plan for your media. For example, set a mealtime and bedtime curfew for cell phones and other devices. Establish some reasonable but firm rules.
- Be a role model. Encourage and join your kids in different outdoor activities.
Children and teens are vulnerable to hunger and poor nutrition, especially during the summer months when school is out. This can lead to lower academic performance once school begins again. Poor nutrition also makes kids more prone to illness and other health issues.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) aims to fill this nutrition gap by providing summer meals for children up to age 18. What’s more, it’s free, and children don’t have to enroll to be eligible. They just have to show up and enjoy a healthy meal. (In fact, more than one meal may be available.)
Summer meal sites are located in many communities across the country at places such as schools, community centers, libraries, parks, playgrounds, and faith-based centers. To find a summer meal site in your community, check out USDA’s Summer Meal Site Finder.