Filed under: Children
Having something to keep children’s minds and bodies busy can make time pass faster and give them a sense of pride while their mom or dad is away. There are various organizations to help support children of deployed parents and keep them active and involved in their community. The U.S. Army has Operation Military Kid, which connects families to local resources to achieve a sense of community. Our Military Kids specifically reaches out to dependents of the National Guard, reservists, and active-duty wounded warriors. The Department of Defense has a new campaign, Operation Live Well, which includes resources to keep military children active and resilient during their guardian’s deployments. There are also numerous non-profit organizations that offer programming for military children—check out the National Resource Directory section for children’s programs near you.
Chubby cheeks on little ones are cute, but you want your child to outgrow them. The number of obese and overweight children has almost tripled since 1980, resulting in an increase in cardiovascular disease and other health issues—a trend reflected in the body-fat condition of today’s military trainees. Doing activities as a family not only gets kids moving, but also gets you moving! Children need at least 60 minutes a day of play involving moderate to vigorous exercise. This can be done throughout the day— at recess, during after school activities, playing at home—and doesn’t have to be done all at once. Let’s Move! has a list of simple steps you can do to encourage your child to live a healthy lifestyle. One idea: Have a house rule of doing jumping jacks during television commercials. For even more ideas, check out the CDC’s Strategies and Solutions for parents and communities.
At some point or another, your child or teen might pick up those dumbbells you have lying around the house. They’ve seen you lift weights as part of your regular exercise routine and decided they want to get stronger too. But you might wonder if strength training is safe for your kids.
Lifting the size weights you use might be too much for kids and teens, but in general strength training (also referred to as resistance training) can be a safe and healthy way to improve muscular fitness for children and teens, starting as early as seven or eight years old, when their coordination skills have developed enough. The goal should be improving muscular fitness while having fun and learning effective training methods.
As a parent you need to make sure your kids are supervised and receiving age-appropriate and skilled instructions in order to reduce the risk of injury. With proper technique and safe practices, strength training is not dangerous for growing bodies. However, light weights, exercise bands, or your child’s own body weight should be used to build his or her strength. Currently, there are no specific guidelines for exactly how much lifting they should do. However, according to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) one to three sets of six to 15 repetitions, two to three times per week is considered reasonable.
Resistance training is not the same as bodybuilding, weightlifting, or powerlifting, which are associated with competition, high intensity, and maximum weights. The American Academy of Pediatrics and ACSM are opposed to children using these methods or the use of "one-rep-max" (a method sometimes used to assess strength) due to the increased risk for injury.
While a medical examination is not mandatory, it is recommended for children who want to begin a strength-training program. And remember that strength training is something you can do with your children. Family fitness is a great way to keep you and your child healthy and active while you spend quality time together.
For many students, sleep is often sacrificed for studying. If it comes down to one or the other, sleep may be the better choice. According to a 2012 study, when students sacrificed sleep for studying, it was harder for them to pay attention in class and perform well on tests or assignments the following day. Warfighters are students too, as they often have to learn on the job. So help yourself and your children to optimize learning by optimizing sleep! Check out HPRC’s “Sleep Optimization” section and articles in response to “Questions from the Field” about sleep for ideas about how to do so.
Does your child like sports drinks? A recently released report—Consumption of Sports Drinks by Children and Adolescents—states that sports drinks are not recommended for children and adolescents when engaged in normal levels of physical activity. The report’s review of research concluded that sports drinks, when consumed in limited quantities, are mainly for those participating in vigorous physical activity lasting longer than an hour. For the vast majority of children and adolescents, drinking water before, during, and after exercise is adequate for proper hydration. See also the “Issue Brief” that describes the key points of their research.
Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) is about to launch this summer and will answer many of your questions about Dietary Supplements. Watch for HPRC’s announcement coming soon.
Post-deployment life presents challenges on many fronts, including, or particularly, reestablishing relationships. The relationship between children and the returned parent often takes time to rebuild—possibly several months. This amount of time is normal, and an effort should be made to not take it personally. Rather, build positive family bonding through activities like going to the park or playing games, and allow time for the relationship to redevelop.
In this fifth and final week of strategies you can use to help your children and teens weather the deployment of a parent, we take a look at how you can use the experience to strengthen your family.
Week #5 tips: Honor the family strengths.
- Deployment and reintegration can be times of family strength and growth. Look at these as opportunities to practice new roles and routines that can be helpful as your family adapts to the challenges of deployment and reintegration.
- Recognize the growth of your adolescent when you return from your deployment. Many teens feel like they’ve matured during their parent’s absence and feel hurt when this goes unacknowledged. In fact, acknowledging and communicating growth and transformations for each member of the family can be a great family activity to build positive relationships.
Children grow and change over the course of a deployment, and service members can sometimes miss events and milestones. Here are some practical strategies you can keep in mind during reintegration to help your children and teenagers.
Week #4 tips: Strategies you can use during reintegration.
- When a deployed parent returns, slowly transition the roles and responsibilities of each family member at home, but don’t forget the individual needs of each person as well as the family as a whole.
- Let your children know that you love them unconditionally, but still provide clear expectations and boundaries.
- Brainstorm a list of fun activities to do as a family.
- Devote one-on-one time with each child when you return home in order to get reacquainted with your children.
- Demonstrate how to cope well with emotions. For example, children can be taught emotion management. One tool is called a “feeling thermometer.” Family members can monitor and control their feelings using the picture of a temperature thermometer to manage stress when the temperature is too high.
Here are some additional practical strategies and tips you as a parent can use to help your children and teens cope with deployment and the post-deployment reintegration process.
Week #2 tips: Easing deployment and reintegration
- Before deployment: If you’re being deployed, try recording your own audio books so your child can listen to your voice during your deployment. This also will help your child stay connected to you by continuing family routines such as reading before bed.
- During deployment: Depending on their age, kids don’t understand timeframes as well as adults do. If you continue to remind them of future plans during and after the deployed parent’s return, it will help them deal with the separation and reunion.
- Try referring to the deployed parent’s absence as work instead of just saying that he or she is gone. This helps children realize that the absent parent didn’t simply choose to leave them, which could make for a better reunion.
- Before the deployed parent returns, talk about what issues to address when he or she does. And plan activities you can share together.
- Throughout the deployment cycle: Be aware of mental health symptoms for children of all ages. If needed, join your children or teenagers in group counseling; it can be a helpful forum where everyone can discuss experiences, feelings, and thoughts.
Many children and teenagers born and raised in military families learn to adapt to their parent’s deployment and return and become more resilient as a result. However, no family is immune to stress. Learning what strategies work best for your family—and each family member—is important for optimal performance over the long run.
Over the next five weeks, HPRC will suggest some practical strategies that you can use as a parent to help your children and teens to cope with deployment and post-deployment reintegration.
Week #1 tips: Try talking with your child about any phase of deployment.
- Help your children stay in touch with their deployed parent—whether through phone calls, videos, or email. Keeping the absent parent up-to-date with events on the home front helps make the homecoming easier.
- Talk about changes that occur during deployment. If your child doesn’t want to talk, encourage expression through playing or drawing.
- Allow and encourage your children to ask any questions they may have regarding deployment—before, during, and after—and give them open, honest, and age-appropriate answers.