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The effect of combat on communication

Combat is stressful. Here are some tips that can help you overcome the impact of combat on your relationships.

Being in combat is physically, emotionally, and mentally stressful. Part of the body's natural stress response is to remain on high alert in order to have a better chance of staying alive. This can lower your tolerance for relationship disagreements and can cause irritability and conflict. The following are some tips to help you overcome the effects of combat on your interactions with loved ones:

  • Practice emotion management strategies prior to and after communicating with your loved ones to help you calm down first.
  • If you are upset, wait to communicate with your loved ones rather than writing or saying something in the heat of the moment.
  • Describe your feelings and thoughts starting with "I.” I-statements are more personal and reduce feelings of blame.
  • Focus on the communication interaction between you and your partner, not just on the way that one or the other of you communicates.
  • Compliment each other!

Sleep as a child is linked to body weight as an adult

HPRC Fitness Arena: Family & Relationships
Children under age 11 who don't get enough sleep are more likely to become overweight as adults.

The amount of sleep a person gets prior to the age of 11 has been associated with adult body weight.  A 2008 study in the Journal of Pediatrics of 1037 individuals found that shorter sleep times at age 5, 7, 9, and 11 were associated with higher Body Mass Index (BMI) at age 32. This relationship does not depend on BMI as a child, socioeconomic status, TV watching, adult physical activity and smoking, and BMI of a person’s parents.

How families can benefit from the USDA’s switch to MyPlate

The USDA’s new MyPlate program is designed to make learning about and practicing healthy eating habits more appealing and more fun for all members of the family.

The USDA announced on June 2, 2011, that its classic food guide Pyramid is being replaced with the easy-to-understand and interactive MyPlate. Using a “familiar mealtime visual,” MyPlate is intended to remind Americans about balancing meals with the five food groups: fruits, vegetables, grains, protein, and dairy. Based on the 2010 Dietary Guidelines, notable changes to the new guide are the inclusion of more fruits and vegetables, less grains, and the re-categorization of oils as providing “essential nutrients” but not appearing on the plate.

The result is a simple visual graphic of a balanced meal that families can use as a tool to make sure the portions of the major food groups are covered in meals. The simplicity of the graphic helps ALL family members, especially children, become more engaged in what and how much they should be eating. An interactive plate on the MyPlate website allows users to click on each section of the plate, which then displays a page for the selected food group with description, key message, and a list with pictures of single-serving sizes of some common foods in that group. These changes allow families to easily identify what a healthy, balanced meal looks like. Also featured is an Interactive Tools section that enables users to develop personalized plans and learn about specific healthy food choices. When all family members know the basics of healthy eating, mealtime can truly be a shared event.

MyPlate can also encourage family discussions about healthy foods, which can help develop good eating habits by all members of a family. For example, you can find out if there are any particular foods that family members like or dislike, and then find and offer alternatives in the specific food group of a disliked item. This will help eliminate the likelihood that someone will skip the essential healthy components of a meal. Get everyone excited and involved during mealtime! Fun meals shared as a family can promote healthy eating habits for children that they can carry into adulthood and can reinforce family bonding.

Keep in mind that MyPlate isn’t designed as strict rule to be followed—it’s perfectly fine to have dairy products directly on the plate instead of in a cup. Desserts, which are currently placed in the “Empty Calories” section, are okay when consumed in moderation in appropriate portions. You may still have to seek out other sources for how to prepare foods in healthy ways and to determine for the nutrition content of many food items. The information on MyPlate should be used as a tool to build a foundation of knowledge about food choices and help set healthy eating goals for your family. Families should take this change as an opportunity to get the entire family involved in healthy eating.

Strategies to impact your well-being: Wrapping up

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Here are some thoughts to wrap up the series we presented over the past four weeks on how to improve your overall well-being through “savoring” strategies.

Several weeks ago we started a series on strategies for processing emotions. We have described four "savoring" strategies and four "dampening" strategies. Using more of the savoring strategies and fewer of the dampening strategies can help positive feelings linger from positive experiences. But you must also make sure you use strategies that match your personality and lifestyle. In this research study, those who used multiple savoring strategies (and avoided more of the dampening strategies) were the happiest. The authors also suggest staying in the moment when something positive happens to you and once the moment has passed, stepping back and savoring the experience. Take a moment now to review the tips from weeks one, two, three, and four.

To learn additional well-being strategies for your happiness toolkit, visit the HPRC's Mind Tactics domain, as well as the Defense Centers of Excellence Mind-Body Strategies website and White Paper.

The Military Family Fitness Model

The Warfighter’s greatest support usually comes from his or her family, yet families also have to deal with the stress of military life. The Joint Services and the DoD have teamed up to develop a framework for additional support and resources to help families cope with the increased pace of deployment.

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.

DCoE's (Defense Centers of Excellence) report [PDF] on the Family Conference can be read here.

HPRC at the DoD/USDA Family Resilience Conference

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Representatives of the HPRC, DCoE, and USUHS presented a workshop on a new model for military family fitness at a conference in April.

The Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury (Resilience and Prevention Directorate), Uniformed Services University, and the Human Performance Resource Center ran a three-hour workshop introducing the Military Family Fitness Model at the DoD/USDA Family Resilience Conference last week (April 26-29) in Chicago, IL. The workshop focused on describing the newly developed process-oriented, multi-level model for total military family fitness, including how service members and their families, leaders, policy makers, and program managers can achieve and maintain family fitness (following the Total Force Fitness paradigm). Key aspects of the model were also described, such as family stressors, strengths, resources, and outcomes.

Deep breathing, guided imagery, mindfulness, and cognitive restructuring were taught as practical skills that can help control family members’ stress. Guidelines were also given for family communication and problem-solving skills designed to enhance family functioning and resilience. A military case study was presented to allow participants to practice the application of the Total Family Fitness model.

To see a copy of the workshop that was presented, click here; for more complete information, please read the abstract of the presentation.

DCoE's (Defense Centers of Excellence) report [PDF] on the Family Conference can be read here.

To learn more integrative mind-body strategies, visit HPRC's Mind Tactics domain and the Defense Centers of Excellence newly published paper on Mind-Body Skills for Regulating the Autonomic Nervous System.

To learn more family strengthening strategies, visit HPRC's Family & Relationships domain.

Presenters of the model were COL Stephen Bowles, Ph.D. (USUHS), Colanda Cato, Ph.D. (DCoE), Monique Moore, Ph.D. (DCoE), and Liz Davenport Pollock, MS, LGMFT (HPRC).

Acknowledgements: Force Health Protection and Readiness, Psychological Health Strategic Operation; Military Community & Family Policy; Air Force Air Education and Training Command; Military Family Research Institute; and Defense Centers of Excellence.

New Army resilience training program targets NCOs and spouses

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The two-week Soldier 360° resilience training program for Warfighters and their spouses is being implemented by the Army with a focus on NCOs.

Soldier 360° is a resilience program being implemented by the Army for Warfighters who have combat experience and their families. In fact, Warfighters take the second half of the two-week class with their spouses, while childcare is provided for those who need it. It’s aimed at non-commissioned officers who are nominated by their commanders. The course provides Warfighters with information and strategies on stress management, anger management, relaxation, health, communication, conflict resolution, nutrition, sleep, combat stress, and management of non-optimal behaviors. It also teaches physical fitness, yoga, meditation, conditioning, injury prevention, and pain management. The program combines financial counseling with Military and Family Life Consultant Program counselors, acupuncturists, physicians, and a myriad of others. Read another article from Army.mil for more information.

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Be constructive and communicate

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In successful marriages, partners work out problems by talking to each other.

Research shows that particular styles of fighting often lead to divorce. In successful marriages, both partners are willing to work out problems by talking to each other.  If one partner withdraws, the other may perceive that as lack of interest in the relationship, and the likelihood of divorce is high. Successful couples empathize with each other and handle conflict constructively. For more information on how to better communicate with your partner, please visit our Family Skills page.

Family Matters: Routines are key for Warfighters and families

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Routines can strengthen athletic performance—and also a family's performance.

All successful athletes have routines: bouncing the ball three times and pausing before shooting a free throw, having a warm-up routine before every game, or chanting together in a group to get pumped before a game starts. As elite athletes, Warfighters also engage in routine activities to get into a mindset for success: cleaning their weapon the exact same way every time, having a pre-combat check prior to engagement, or putting their gear on in a certain order every day. Likewise, all successful families have routines. Spending time doing fun family activities, chores, or other quality time (like mealtime) together creates stability within the family and opportunities to connect. In fact, these findings have prompted researchers to assert, “Families who play together stay together.” Research has shown that couples who spend their leisure time together are less likely to divorce or separate. For military families, being apart (for deployment or training) can make it more difficult to maintain family routines, but it makes it even more important. Research has found that it is important for children to maintain a consistent routine while a parent is deployed. Some families mark a calendar, have special bedtime routines, or write in a diary while their family member is deployed. It’s equally important that deployed spouses and/or parents develop routines that keep them connected to their families at home. All of these strategies build family strength and closeness, both on the home front and during the heightened stress of separation.

For more strategies to help build family resilience, see the Family & Relationships section of HPRC's website.

Family Matters: Communicating well

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Communicating well is extremely important for family well-being.

Communicating well is extremely important for family well-being. Being able to speak clearly, listen well, show a range of emotional expression while being respectful and showing regard for family members’ are all aspects of good communication. You can help foster positive family communication by appreciating your loved ones verbally on a daily basis.

Sources:
Walsh, F. (2006). Strengthening family resilience. NewYork, NY: Guilford.
Walsh, F. (2003). Family resilience: A framework for clinical practice. Family Process, 42(1),1-18.
Walsh, F. (2007). Traumatic loss and major disasters: Strengthening family and community resilience. Family Process, 46(2).

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