Thursday, January 26, 2012

Advocating for Our Military Brats: How Do We Cross the Military/Civilian Divide for Our Children?

It's no secret that military families tend to believe that the general public doesn't fully understand our lifestyle.  But as I wrote in my latest post for Blue Star Families, I'm beginning to think that we can help people understand us simply by opening the lines of communication and sharing our stories.  We're all adults, right?  We're all capable of verbalizing our feelings, right?


Well, not exactly.  What about our children?  How do we help our precious military brats when civilians don't understand them? 


The other day a mil spouse friend of mine was seeking advice on Facebook.  Her husband is deployed, and she lives in a non-military town.  Her daughter was inconsolable at school, missing her daddy so much that she couldn't stop crying.  And there wasn't a single adult at her school who was able to help her.  When my friend questioned the administration about what had happened, she was told that no one at the school was trained in working with military children.


Now my friend is wondering how she can help educators understand the unique needs of a military child.  I sat down to compose an answer for her, but I found myself at an odd loss for words.  Odd because I'm both a teacher and a mother of two military brats who have endured deployments.  But as a teacher, I've only had 1 student who had a deployed parent, and his behavior never changed.  And as a parent, I've seen only minor and temporary behavior changes in my children while their daddy was gone. 


Despite the fact that I earned my teaching degree at a university in a military town and the fact that I currently teach at a school in a military town, I've never been trained to cope with, as my friend put it, the unique needs of military children.  The only reason I feel capable of understanding my military brat students is because of my experiences as a parent of military brats.  But what about my co-workers who have had no personal experiences with military families?  How would they deal with a student who was inconsolably missing her deployed daddy?  My co-workers are all fantastic teachers, most with way more experience in the classroom than I can claim.  But most of them probably have no idea about those unique needs of military brats.


So how do we advocate for our children?  How do we speak for our young military brats when they don't know how to speak for themselves?  How can we help their educators/caregivers understand their unique needs?  What kinds of resources can we share with them?



Military OneSource is a great place to start, both as a resource for ourselves as military families and for educators learning about children in military families.  Printing out online articles for teachers to read and directing them to websites like Military Child Education Coalition, Military Kids Connect, and Sesame Street for Military Families are also helpful.  But most of all, I think we all need to remember the most basic means of crossing that military/civilian divide: communication.  Inform teachers before your spouse deploys so she can start looking for behavioral changes at school.  Share the books you're reading to your child at home (you can find some of my favorites for both kids and adults here).  Describe what methods of coping are working at home for your child, such as Daddy Dolls, deployment journals, or as my friend is trying, art therapy.  Keep the lines of communication open and encourage teachers to do the same.


Our military brats do indeed have unique needs because they are unique children with unique challenges.  And they need and deserve all the advocates they can get.



Have you ever had to advocate for your military brat with educators or caregivers or other civilians who just didn't understand?  What advice can you share?  Please chime in here or join my Facebook discussion!




9 comments:

  1. Such a good topic. Being a National Guard family, we also do not live in a military town and were faced with this when my husband deployed. Luckily, my kids didn't have too many troubles while their dad was away and school was their comfort zone outside of home. I also work at their school, so I was able to keep in contact with the teachers and let them know what was going on. We told the teachers, as well as the administrators, well in advance that my husband would be leaving and to please inform me of any behavior changes. At the beginning of the deployment, my daughter did have some moments of missing daddy while at school so we designated at teacher that she could go to when she was sad (as long as it wasn't during instruction) and get a hug or sit close to her. They also had a stuff animal that was special in the classroom that she could go hug and hold on to for a while. They were small things, but really helped her. The teachers also allowed both kids to bring in a picture of their dad and share with their class the picture and whatever else they wanted about him. The teachers let the other kids know that their dad was away doing an important job and that our kids miss him and might be a little sad at times. After hearing that, the other kids were so good and would notice when ours were having a hard time and helped to distract them. It was very heartwarming to see 4 and 6 year olds help take care of their classmates :)
    Like you said, the key was communication. I regularly spoke with the teachers to ask if they were noticing anything different. I also let them know if we had not heard from my husband in a while or other things that came up so that they were aware. Passing along websites about military deployments to the school also helped provide resources for the school to help them understand.
    I hope things get better for your friend and she finds a way to help the school be supportive of her daughter.
    (Sorry this was so long!)

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    1. Thank you so much for the AWESOME response New Normal! (Don't ever apologize for leaving a long comment.) I'm sure you've faced the same problems my friend is since you're a National Guard family. It sounds like you've done a wonderful job communicating with teachers.

      Thank you so much for chiming in. I know all of the advice is helping her to feel not so alone. :)

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  2. This is a great group of people working for our military children re: education. Good resources for parents also: http://www.militarychild.org - I've interviewed them for articles and they have excellent advice for educators in the position of helping our children through deployments.

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    1. By the way, I just added the website you suggested to my post. Thanks for sharing!

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  3. Thank you so much for the website Mom of Brats! I just checked it out, and it looks like a fantastic resource for families and educators alike. I'm passing it along to my friend right now!

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  4. Thank you for bringing this topic up. I am new to the military lifestyle ( as a wife) i was an army brat when i was younger. We are part of the National Guard and we have a 7month old. I always wondered how this would be handle as we live in a non military area. When my husband deploys how would i handle that situation at school when children in our area are not use to dealing with these situations. Thank you for giving me ideas so when our time comes I am more prepared. In a life were nothing is certain i appericate all the advice and insight i can get. THANK YOU.

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    1. I'm so glad I could help Ashly! And since I posted this, I've heard of 2 more great resources: https://www.militarykidsconnect.org/ and http://www.militarychild.org/. Since your little one is only 7 months old, it's likely that there will be more resources around when you need them, but it's always food for thought. :)

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  5. Thanks for this great post! As a former military brat in my late 20s, I still find myself reflecting on the unique childhood experience of growing up as a "brat." There are some resources out there and the ones you've mentioned are great ones...but I've always been a little perplexed that there aren't more! I mean there are over a million current of former militar brats alive today...that's a pretty substantial subculture! I've definitely tried to highlight the struggles of brat life on my blog, as well as in the Young Adult novel I'm hoping to publish this year. I've also come across a documentary that really seems to give a "voice" to this unique group--BRATS: Our Journey Home. Finally, Military Community Youth Ministries (also known as Club Beyond) has created this great site for military teens, if families are looking for a more spiritual resource: http://rezlife.americanbible.org/

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    1. Glad you liked the post! Yeah, I'm surprised there aren't more resources out there for mil brats because, as you said, it's a pretty big subculture. I love your blog, and I'm excited to hear more about your YA novel. Best of luck getting it published! Thanks for the comment and for sharing your input and more resources. :)

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