Filed under: Children
Since the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, approximately two million U.S. troops have deployed. The operational tempo associated with these conflicts has led to longer and more frequent deployments with fewer rest periods in between. The inevitable stress is a challenge for military and civilian communities, even as families work hard to reintegrate their families and normal routines.
In response to these ongoing demands, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff directed the development of the Total Force Fitness (TFF) initiative, a new Department of Defense model that focuses on the health, readiness, and performance of our Warfighters. (See the Total Force Fitness section of HPRC’s website for more information on this initiative.)
Following this initiative, a team of Joint-Service and DoD experts lead by COL Bowles of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USUHS) came together to create a model that promotes family fitness, resilience, and optimal well-being for service members and their families. This model, which is still in development, is called The Military Family Fitness Model (MFFM).
The MFFM first examines stress-inducing demands placed on military and civilian families from sudden deployment and the return home. Then, looking to build on the resilience of the family, MFFM provides guidelines, skills, and resources for the individual, family, and community to protect against the negative effects of stress. As sources of stress increase, certain behaviors indicate the need for more support (e.g., family strife, children acting out, job instability for non-service members, family role conflict, non-supportive relationships outside the family, and/or domestic violence). With MFFM, families have individual, family, and community resources for additional support. The aim of the model is to foster a multi-level approach that strengthens family resilience and, as a result, Warfighter resilience.
Individual approaches to addressing stress include breathing exercises, yoga, mindfulness exercises, and cognitive restructuring. Family strategies include developing and maintaining strong communication skills, shared family routines, and the building of support networks. The bottom line of the MFFM is that at any point along the model, individuals, families, and communities can strengthen resilience resources to promote total family resilience and fitness.
Members of the MFFM team presented the Military Family Fitness Model at the USDA/DoD Family Resilience conference at the end of April. We encourage you to get more information on the conference presentation, read the abstract, and see the PowerPoint slides presented.
WIC is the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children. It provides food, nutrition counseling, and access to health services for low-income women, infants, and children. Eligibility to receive services is based on income, state residency, and “nutrition risk.” WIC is available for military families who qualify based on income. For more information, including eligibility and program services, see the Nutrition Program Facts.
Childhood obesity has become a significant health problem, putting children and adolescents at risk for developing asthma, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes, as well as other serious health risks. The American Academy of Pediatrics website has a parenting corner, helpful links, and resources on this topic. See their “Overweight and Obesity” section.
The military celebrates the Friday before Mother’s Day every year as Military Spouse Appreciation Day. In 1984, former president Ronald Reagan initiated this event to acknowledge and honor the commitment, courage, and sacrifice of the wives and husbands of our nation’s service members. Military spouses are the backbone of their families and are key to the success of the Warfighter’s military performance. President Barack Obama reflected in his 2010 Military Spouse Appreciation Day speech, “At the heart of our Armed Forces, service members’ spouses keep our military families on track.”
The Military Family Resource Center reports these statistics about military spouses and/or families:
- Almost 60% the active-duty force has family responsibilities of a spouse and/or children.
- 93% of the spouses of active-duty members are female.
- 54% of the spouses are 30 years of age or younger; 72% are under age 36.
- 56% of active-duty spouses are employed. 14% of active-duty spouses are Armed Forces members themselves.
- 43% of active-duty members have children; the average number of children for active-duty members who have children is two.
- Among active-duty members who have dependents, the average number of dependents is almost 2.5.
- More than 50% of the children of active-duty members are seven years of age or younger.
(Source: 2008 Demographics: Profile of the Military Community, published by the Military Family Resource Center.)
For more information about President Obama’s speech, see:
Red 40, Yellow 5, Yellow 6, and other dyes are artificial colorings allowed in foods in the U.S., yet there is a long-standing debate over whether food dyes contribute to hyperactivity in children. The Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Food Advisory Committee met the last week of March and determined that there is not enough evidence to support the link between food dyes and hyperactivity in children. For now, there will be no warning labels on food products containing dyes.
In a study of military youth, risk-taking behavior was compared to national and state averages. The researchers found that risk-taking behaviors among military youth—specifically, sexual activity and substance abuse—were much lower than national and state averages. However, there were still reports of risk-taking behaviors among military youth, so the authors caution not to misinterpret this information—even military children still need guidance. For more information on risk-taking behaviors, visit the HPRC's Mind Tactics "Performance Degraders" section.
The way that parents behave under stress, and interact with their children on a daily basis, has a profound influence on a child’s resilience or the ability to bounce back from stress. Parents can improve resilience by teaching the following skills to their children:
- Spiritual: Parents can help children feel a sense of uniqueness, purpose, and perseverance by providing a spiritual foundation, framework, or belief in something bigger than just the child’s universe.
- Emotional: Parents can model and foster positive mood management; discuss feelings with them and help them learn how to deal with emotions, both positive and negative.
- Physical: Parents can practice and teach positive health habits that include healthful food choices and physical activity.
- Behavioral: Parents can model, coach, and teach positive behaviors that help foster their child’s belief that they can behave well and make positive choices.
- Cognitive: Parents can enhance a child’s self-esteem and help them develop cognitive and academic skills by monitoring and checking their homework, and promoting problem solving skills that teach them to proactively solve problems and develop independent thinking skills.
Recently, the White House announced new initiatives to support military families in four key areas: overall well-being, education and development of military children, career advancement opportunities for military spouses, and improved availability of quality childcare. Multiple agencies have partnered to support these efforts with the following goals:
- Focus on suicide trends to offer targeted preventive training and counseling to meet the mental health needs of military families;
- Offer child care resources;
- Combat homelessness;
- Expand communication across rural communities;
- Expand career opportunities for military spouses;
- Expand access to financial aid and needs of military students; and
- Expand facilities to help military families recover, integrate, and support their youth during and after deployment cycles.
Having children help out with dinner and keeping the same routine when a parent is deployed; marking a calendar with an X for every day their parent is away, and having a great support system are just a few of the strategies that the Sesame Street Workshop's program on "Preparing for Deployment" offers.
They also have age-appropriate workshops for younger children on "When Families Grieve," "Coping with Changes," and "Homecomings Family Routines."
The American Psychological Association offers communication tips for parents:
- Make yourself available to your children to talk, listen or do things together.
- Let your children know you are listening.
- Express your opinion in a way that your child can hear your message.
- Remember that children often learn how to deal with emotions, solve problems, and work through stressful situations from their parents.