Filed under: Families
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
When reuniting with your family, the “Soldier and Family Guide to Redeploying” offers tips for maintaining successful family relationships. A few of their suggestions:
- Take time to re-establish communication with each of your loved ones.
- Use romantic communication to help transition into love relations easier.
- Reinforce the good things your family has done.
- Move slowly in making adjustments.
- Discuss division of the family chores.
- Spend time alone with your spouse.
- Focus on successes and limit criticisms.
- Expect some changes in your child(ren).
- Spend relaxed time with your child.
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.