Today’s military children have to adapt to more stressors than ever before. Their parents are deployed more frequently and many kids change schools anywhere from four to twelve times during the course of their parents’ military service.
It’s a stress many outside the military are unfamiliar with, especially teachers. The biggest service we can offer to these children and their teachers is to prepare them both for these transitions. And while the children can ask their parents how to prepare for these changes, who is there for the teacher?
You may be thinking, “What does a teacher need to know about the child’s move?” Well, it really depends on what type of teacher you strive to be. If you want to help that young person adapt to their new surroundings so they can flourish and succeed, then keep reading.
Military Children 101
As of Jan. 2013, there were 1.4 million people on active duty, with an additional 850 thousand in the seven reserve components. That means approximately 900 thousand of the 1.7 million registered military children (under 18) have had a parent deployed at some point in their lives.
This statistic, coupled with the fact that most military families move every two to three years, means military children are confronted with many unique challenges their nonmilitary peers will never face.
Some of these experiences include: absence of a deployed parent, moving, changing schools, leaving old friends and meeting new ones, coping with a parent’s injury or worse—death. Separation anxiety, sleep issues, withdrawal, frustration and fear aren’t just feelings limited to the home; they can be brought to school.
How Teachers Can Step Up
The most important thing to know is that teachers often act as the front line to children’s problems, meaning they can often spot problems before a parent or sibling even notice. Here are a few tips to help you better understand your student, as well as keep them on the right path.
1. Be honest and reassuring. Talk with your new student to let them know that you understand what they’re going through and that you’re there to help in their transition. Don’t make unrealistic promises.
2. If you know their parent is deployed, help them set aside a school scrapbook so they can mail (or keep) their work to show their parent when they return.
3. Understand that children may have difficulty studying if they’re thinking about deployed parents. Pairing them up with other students that share similar interests could help keep them on track.
4. Get in touch with their family and let them know you’re there to help. Parents in general often worry about their children’s education and success, so easing their minds even a bit can do wonders both or the child and for the service member.
5. Help kids express their feelings. Using different art mediums to let their emotions out can do wonders.
6. Each child reacts differently to change, meaning what works for one child may not work for another. Vary your teaching to help ensure your students are getting the most out of your teaching.
7. Spot problems early and be as encouraging as possible. If you notice a student starting to slide, make sure you contact their care provider. Letting issues linger can just lead to more problems.
Most military children will show you a character and strength that are unmatched in young people today. But children of all ages can always use a consistent, caring presence in their life. As a veteran and a father of three, I can’t tell you how invaluable a caring teacher can be. They can be the rock both the parent and student need in times of stress, and they can set the tone early after any move.
Remember that you are the first line of defense for today’s military student. And just by being open, honest, supportive and predictable, you can assuage many fears and concerns; ultimately reducing the risk of emotional turmoil and setting the student up for success.
Levi Newman is a 10-year U.S. Army veteran who served in multiple overseas deployments and assignments. Levi covers veteran benefits and news as the chief writer behind Veterans United Network and VA Benefit Blog. Connect with Levi on Google+.