Helping Military Kids Cope with Tough Times

LTC Dr. Keith Lemmon, a pediatrician in the military, who gives advice on what stress symptoms a child may display and what to do.

LTC Dr. Keith Lemmon, a pediatrician in the military, who gives advice on what stress symptoms a child may display and what to do.

The fatal shootings at the Fort Hood, Texas military post are tough enough for adults to grasp.

Now, imagine if you are the child in a military family and hearing news of the shooting for the first time.

Military kids are tough, but news like that can overwhelm a child already dealing with deployment, transitioning to a new post or living on a military base.

So, I’m posting a few links that most military families may know about, but it’s helpful to have online tips at hand.

First, LTC Dr. Keith Lemmon outlines symptoms of stress you may observe in a child from an infant having trouble bonding to an elementary school child acting out.

The Military Kids Connect website offers specific tips for dealing with four tough topics:

  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Mild Traumatic Brain Injury (mTBI)
  • Physical Injury
  • Grief and Loss

As part of a military family, children sometimes have to learn how to cope with and overcome very difficult situations. So, the Department of Defense has developed materials to help the children, parents and educators because the family’s involvement is key to a child’s success in dealing with tough situations.

There’s a sign circulating for April, Military Child Month, that goes:

Military children will say good-bye to more significant people by the age of 18 than the average person will in their lifetime.

Just think about it and whenever you thank a member of the military for their service you might add a thank you for their family and children.

Children’s Contest to Design “Pictures for Patriots” Card

An assortment of colored pencils

An assortment of colored pencils (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Crayons! Paints! Magic markers! Colored pencils! Do you know a child who loves to create pictures no matter the medium?

Operation Gratitude is holding a competition for youngsters from kindergarten through 12th grade to create original artwork for “Pictures for Patriots.”

Children may enter as often as they like. The more the better because all appropriate artwork submitted will be sent in Operation Gratitude care packages.

Operation Gratitude will soon ship out more than 40,000 boxes to deployed service members and wounded warriors recovering in military hospitals or transition units.

Contest artwork may be submitted starting February 1, 2013.

There are a few rules:

  • The artwork should have a “Thank you, Troops!” theme.
  • The artwork must be horizontal.
  • Submission size: Minimum: 4″ x 6″ up to a maximum size of 4.75″ x 6.5″
  • Entries must be postmarked by February 22, 2013.
  • Attach the name of entrant, plus age, grade and full mailing address and contact email address with a paper clip or sticky note to the back of each entry.

A panel of veterans will select the winning entry. A Grand Prize winner will be selected and their artwork will be featured on the 2013 Patriotic Drive Card. Mail entries to:

2013 P4P Greeting Card Contest
c/o 2468 Tapo Canyon
Simi Valley, CA 93063
ATTN: Operation Gratitude

Additional details and the official contest rules are available here.

Photo credit: Operation Gratitude

Photo credit: Operation Gratitude

How to Talk to Children About the News, Violence, Trauma

Photo credit: PBS Parents

Photo credit: PBS Parents

Many parents are keeping the television turned off this weekend to shield their children from news reports of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre.

Another choice, is to turn to a TV organization, PBS Parents, for tips on how to talk to children about news:

  • Find out what your child knows about the news.
  • Listen to what your child tells you.
  • Ask a follow-up question.
  • Shield children under age eight from disturbing news.
  • Avoid repeated TV viewings of the same news event.
  • Monitor older children’s exposure to the news.
  • Develop an ongoing dialogue with your child about world happenings

Children of military families live with the possible loss of a parent daily, just like kids of first responders.

Experts at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration have developed a fact sheet on talking to children about traumatic events with age specific suggestions:

Ages toddler to 5:

  • Focus on your child, not the trauma of the event
  • Get down to their eye level to talk gently
  • Let them know they are safe

Ages 6 to 19:

  • Ask what worries them and how you can help them cope
  • Offer comfort, be present for them
  • Spend more time together, but get back to daily routines
  • Suggest quiet times to write or do artwork

The Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury has a resource guide for military service members. It focuses on deployments but offers ideas on how to talk to kids about their fears.

Threat of Sequestration Is Hurting Military Kids’ Education

school-deskJust the treat of losing some of its funding has one small Texas School district that serves children from nearby Randolph Air Force Base cutting teachers, reading specialists, a librarian and eliminating Advanced Placement science courses reports the Stars and Stripes.

Nearly half of the Randolph Field Independent School District’s annual budget of $12.7 million comes from federal “Impact Aid,” which helps fund school districts that serve large military populations.

But Impact Aid is also one of the many federal government programs facing an automatic, across-the-board 10 percent cut on Jan. 2 if Congress and the White House fail to reach a budget compromise to avert sequestration …

“Impact Aid is the lifeblood of our district,” said Billy Walker, the Randolph district school superintendent. So rather than cross his fingers and hope that the politicians in Washington would come up with a compromise, Walker decided to incorporate the sequestration cuts into this school year’s budget, which started in August.

The Randolph district is not alone. More than a third of the school districts that receive federal funds or “Impact Aid” cut teachers and staff and delayed maintenance according to a  survey conducted by the National Association of Federally Impacted Schools.

The survey found that 36 percent of the 334 school districts decided to make tough cutbacks in their budgets at the beginning of the school year to prepare for possible sequestration.

Military Teens Learn Resilience as Backpack Journalists

Backpack Journalists Emarah Cousar (left) and Kat Boynton (right) pose with Navy Capt. Paul Hammer, DCoE director, at the Warrior Resilience Conference in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Linda Dennis/A Backpack Journalist)

As a journalist, this idea excites me. Military children learning the ability to recover and be flexible by practicing reporting and photography along with other forms of creative expression.

Take for instance 16-year-old Kat Boynton who recently covered the annual “Warrior Resilience Conference.”

“I can be eye-to-eye with a three-star general and have a conversation and the confidence to speak well and present myself,” Boynton told Robyn Mincher with the Defense Centers of Excellence Strategic Communications.

Boynton’s father and brother are in the Army National Guard and both have deployed. She is participating in the Backpack Journalist program.

“Regardless of where I end up, the life lessons and skills that I’m learning [from Backpack] will go wherever I’m going,” Boynton said.

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A Soldier’s Son Shares a Moment with His Departed Daddy

No need for 1,000 words with this picture re-published with the permission of the Facebook page Freedom Isn’t Free and consent from the Wise family.

Traci Wise posted this photo and text April 4, 2012:

Found my son sitting having a moment with his daddy (SFC Benjamin Wise) the other day. We lost him January 15 in Afghanistan… we cannot forget about the incredible loss these children must undertake.

According to, Wise was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star Medal, Purple Heart and Meritorious Service Medal. And he is survived by his wife, Traci; his sons Luke and Ryan; and his daughter Kailen.

An Uncle Lost Too

According to the Arkansas newspaper, Hope Star, SFC Benjamin Wise’s brother, a former Navy SEAL, was killed in Afghanistan at a CIA outpost in December 2009.

Military Child Month: A Video Honoring Their Service

Two quick things about this video that celebrates April as Military Child month.

First, it is produced in remembrance of U.S. Army Sergeant First Class Jared C. Monti, Medal of Honor (posthumous) 2009.

Second, watch for the daughter of Off the Base contributor Jackie Dorr. Paisley appears in the video 3:18 in holding her “Daddy Doll.”

Sending a virtual hug to all the children of military parents, in my experience, you can never get enough hugs!

Military Families: The Strength of One Child

This photo is from Kaitlyn's 2012 Relay for Life page. In the Japanese culture, the crane is a symbol of honor, loyalty and peace which exemplify her and her military family.

If I’ve learned anything about military families, it is that they pull together when faced with adversity. Their strength is a special bond forged through frequent moves and dangerous deployments.

Another remarkable thing about military families – despite their size and age – military children can be as mature and as mentally strong any adult.

That said, I bring you the story of Kaitlyn Gatewood. I know her dad. He’s a Public Affairs Officer for Tampa’s MacDill AFB 6th Air Mobility Wing. During one of the many press events at the base, I got to meet Katie.

Her hair was short – growing back after aggressive chemotherapy. And, she had bracelets with lovely beads – each signifying a trip to the hospital. Kaitie was diagnosed almost two years ago with of Acute Meyloid Leukemia, a rare form that affects only 500 children a year.

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4 Things You Can Do for Military Children this Month

Photo by Cpl. Theodore Ritchie (courtesy of Real Warriors campaign)

Children growing up in military families also serve by having a parent who could be deployed at any time and a family unit that likely has to move every few years to a new PCS (Permanent Change of Station).

So, the Real Warriors campaign, established by the Defense Centers of Excellence, has some suggestions on how you can acknowledge a Military Child you may know or all Military Children:

  1. Volunteer to write letters or do activities together – Flags Across the Nation brings military families together to write letters to deployed service members, make blankets for wounded warriors and create art using Flags Across the Nation’s free online coloring pages to send to warriors.
  2. Color in story books specially designed for military children – Download and print the coloring sheets Goodbyes are Hard [PDF 812KB], I Can Do That! [PDF 792KB] and Coloring Book Pages for Kids [PDF 2.2MB], or ask your family readiness group or military family life consultant how to find additional coloring books.
  3. Create and populate a family page – Military Families Near and Far encourages families to work together to develop a family page within the website. Families can create artwork, write stories or record messages and add them to the family scrapbook on your family page. The  Sesame Workshop online tool can help  family stay connected during deployment.
  4. Learn about a parent’s deployment – “Where are You Going?” on helps children explore the country where a deployed parent is located and learn about cultural elements such as typical foods, traditional clothing and language. The interactive map can help families cope with separation.

More tips on how to honor and celebrate the Month of the Military Child are available HERE.

Military Children Honored for Their Service Too

Molly Morath waits to march in the parade honoring military children Monday morning at MacDill Air Force Base, Tampa, FL.

Military service is voluntary in the United States, but it’s a different story for the children born into military families. That’s an estimated 1.8 million children who face many unique challenges and stresses of military life not known by civilian kids.

“The frequent deployments often mom or dad is gone,” said Gail Mouse, director of MacDill’s Child Development Center 3. “As well as, they’re moving every two to three years. They don’t have the support systems that many of the civilian children have with having family right there.”

An unidentified military child marches in his "pint-sized" military uniform.

But those same challenges can also bond a family according to Erin Morath whose husband is with the maintenance squadron at MacDill Air Force Base.

“You really appreciate what you have when you have it because before you know it daddy’s gone again or we’re moving again and friends are gone again. So it’s really about appreciating what you have,” Morath said.

She and her daughter Molly Morath were among the 400 who marched in the Monday morning parade to honor the military children at MacDill Air Force Base.

Leading the parade was the MacDill Color Guard, a base fire engine and the Robinson High School Drum Line followed by preschool children waving flags, toddlers in costumes ranging from firefighters to pirates to robots. Some wore cardboard costumes to look like airplanes, cars and buses while others were pushed in strollers or walked hand-in-hand with their military parent.

One of several "cardboard" aircraft on display during the military children's parade at MacDill AFB.

Liz Waters, director of the Airmen and Family Readiness Center at MacDill Air Force Base and acting flight chief for the Airmen Family Services Flight, says many civilians would be surprised by the resiliency of military children.

“I think this is a time to honor them for what they’re doing to support their families,” Waters said. “They support the military just like their parents do.”

The Department of Defense recognizes April as the Month of the Military Child and encourages local bases to hold events honoring the children.

The Robinson High School Drum Line.

Part of that recognition extended to military families with children with autism. Kris Keyser coordinates all programs for special needs families at MacDill. Her ride in the parade was a golf cart decorated with blue balloons for the “Light it up Blue” campaign.

“Light It Up Blue is a global movement to kickoff Autism Awareness month,” Keyser said. “The Sun Trust building in downtown Tampa was all lit up blue. We gave away blue light bulbs to families housed on base.”

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