In April, the Defense Department recognizes military children in an awareness campaign to make sure the well-being and mental health of the youngest members of our military community are brought to light. The DoD says about the Month of the Military Child that the goal of the campaign is to “highlight the unique challenges of military children. Our goal is to improve their quality of life and help mitigate the demands they experience from all the transitions, such as frequent moves, parental separations for military training, and worrying about their parents when they're deployed.”
Unique challenges faced by military children
Unlike kids whose parents are not military, this community of children moves 6 to 9 times on average during their school years. In the past, we’ve written about this particular challenge and have highlighted research that shows that military kids who move frequently are significantly more likely to have mental health issues such as depression or anxiety and that in fact, age is an important predictor of the impact on mental health, i.e., military kids aged 12-17 are four times as likely to need help from a mental health professional as military kids aged 6-11. This makes sense intuitively, as teens are already going through the changes and stresses of puberty. In addition:
- Students involved in sports who move later in the year can miss team tryouts, or the new school may not offer the same athletic programs.
- Kids who move may feel the loss of having to end close relationships with friends at a previous school.
- It’s more difficult for kids to gain acceptance in a new school where cliques and social networks are already established.
In addition to frequent moves, other stressors of military life impact kids. For example, when their parents are deployed, they may miss big milestones such as birthdays, holidays, school and sports events, and graduations.
Resources for families
We’ve written articles in the past about how parents, teachers, and other community members can help monitor military kids for signs of mental health issues. For example, these warning signs should not be ignored:
- Kids who talk about fears or worry frequently
- Complain about frequent stomach or headaches with no known medical cause
- Are in constant motion and cannot sit still
- Sleep too much or too little, have frequent nightmares or seem sleepy during the day
- Are spending more and more time alone, are not interested in playing with other children, or have difficulty making friends
- Struggle academically or have experienced a recent decline in grades
- Repeat actions or check things many times out of fear that something bad may happen.
- Have lost interest in things that they used to enjoy
As part of publicizing Military Children Awareness Month, the Department of Defense also wants military parents to know that support exists for their kids year-round. For example, at the installation level, there are typically child development centers, youth centers, Military and Family Support Centers, and family life counselors. Off the installations, there is community-partner support for military children through schools and organizations such as 4-H and the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. In addition, the DoD’s militaryonesource.mil website has updated resources and events which are dedicated to the Month of the Military Child.
A DoD spokesperson said, "I'd like us to remember what military children's lives are like and how unique their challenges are. It's quite incredible when we think about the transitions they go through that most children don't, and our military children are so resilient through it all."