Article by Sabra Morris, Marine Corps Spouse
There are plenty of special challenges that our kids face, along with the regular academic tasks, social pressures and general growing pains all children encounter. Our kids have pre-deployments, deployments and reintegration to handle. Many also cope with parents’ visible and invisible wounds upon return.
Topping the list of challenges? The multiple PCS moves so many of our kids face each year. You’ve probably heard the numbers: Military children move an average of six to nine times between kindergarten and the 12th grade, according to the Military Child Education Coalition. With that comes the general loss of normalcy that comes with any major lifestyle changes.
Child advocate, educator and performer Debbie Fink, president of Harmony Hearth, LLC, and her daughter Jennifer Fink coined the term CHAMPS (Child Heroes Attached to Military Personnel) to give our military kids a new, positive way to identify themselves. They have also created “The Little Champs” book and theme song to honor our special children, acknowledge their unique challenges and celebrate their strengths.
Debbie recommends these 8 ways to foster a healthy, happy life in your military child.
1) HIGHLIGHT HER STRENGTHS
“Find a handful of moments each day to honor your child’s virtues,” says Fink. “Thank her and tell her when she’s being courageous, f lexible, helpful, honorable or joyful … the list is endless.” Be sure to highlight specific moments when your child really shines.
2) OPEN A DIALOGUE AND KEEP IT OPEN
“There must be a safe haven for CHAMPS to express how they’re feeling, what they’re feeling, why they’re feeling it and who they’re feeling it about,” says Fink. “Kids need to feel that a caregiver is listening and resisting judgment.” This can be overwhelming at times (and that’s normal). Remember it’s OK to involve another trusted adult or in your child’s emotional care.
3) ENCOURAGE SELF-EXPRESSION
Journaling, dance, drawing, music, sports and art are fantastic avenues for this. Activities keep kids happy, moving and interested. They often provide avenues for children to communicate their thoughts and feelings without talking, which can sometimes be intimidating.
4) CREATE A STRONG NETWORK
It really does take a village. “Communicate as needed with the CHAMP’s teacher, school guidance counselor and any other key personnel,” says Fink. “Keep them abreast of developments and shifting dynamics in the child’s life.” That way, they can be prepared help support your CHAMP during challenging times.
5) SPEND SOME DOWNTIME TOGETHER
Turn off the phones/e-mail and spend some uninterrupted time with your child. “Read and talk with them, draw with them, dance or play music, cook or bake with them. Play catch. Watch a wholesome movie with a bowl of shared popcorn. ‘Talkable moments’ will arise in the strangest of circumstances, so make sure you seize these moments to listen and give feedback,” says Fink
6) GET WITH THE PROGRAM
Organizations such as the Military Child Education Coalition (MCEC) and the United Services Organization (USO) offer programs designed to help kids and parents navigate military life and enrich their military-life experiences. Visit www. militarychild.org and www. uso.org for details. Check your installation for local programs and initiatives, too.
“You can step outside your challenges by helping others with theirs,” says Fink. As your kids work on volunteer projects, they’ll get a sense of just how strong and capable they are.
8) HELP YOUR CHAMP BECOME AN AMBASSADOR
Set up opportunities for your CHAMP to talk with other CHAMPS and civilian children about his or her experiences. Provide avenues for them to share emotions and coping strategies with each other. School guidance counselors, teachers, clergy members and other trusted adults can often facilitate this.
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