A knock at the door with dinner, a mowed lawn, a shoulder to lean on, or that listening ear. Without the support of our communities, we as military families would have a much harder journey. We live in communities that lift us up and come along side of us during those long, difficult days of deployments and the challenges of military life. Whether living on a base or installation, or living off-base, we need community and to feel a sense of belonging.
My family does not live near a military base, but have lived through long deployments, more weeks and weekends away than we care to account and more “good-byes” than we care to remember. Although, we as military families, are overall a “put your head down and get it done” kind of group, we do need support, and are so thankful for it! We were supported many times from our local neighbors, friends and family. Supportive outreach made such a difference to us, as well as simple words of encouragement and a listening ear, made life just that much easier.
With April being the, “Month of the Military Child” we thought some conversations tips to have with our children would be appropriate and helpful. It is so important that our children always feel like they, too, have a listening ear to turn to, and can share their feelings. Often though, these conversations take place with their peers, at their schools, and during out-of-the-home activities. So, here are some ideas for both adults and children when interacting with military children of all ages. These are meant to be positive conversation starters for children and also some tips of areas to avoid. These tips may be especially helpful for those who find military life a bit foreign. Of course, this is not a complete list, but ones I gathered with the help of many others who have walked this crazy, military life in all forms and fashion. Thank you all for your insight! (I received upwards of 100 comments when I started researching this on social media…thank you!) Hopefully this helps spur thoughtful conversations to help our military kids and families succeed and feel supported. So, let’s start with what areas to avoid.
What Not to Say:
- “Can’t your mom/dad be home in time for your birthday/concert/celebration etc.?” Missed events are particularly difficult for our military children. Waking up on Christmas morning, other holidays, concerts, birthdays or first days of school are extremely tough for the entire family. Navigate these waters very gently and understand that “no” they will most likely not be home. Our loved ones serving do not have the liberty to come and go as they choose. As much as they would love to be home celebrating, they simply cannot. So, asking this in a general sense is certainly fine, “When does your mom/dad return home?” It is more being aware of timing and not being overly focused on how they missed such an important day.
- “My mom travels a lot too, I know how you feel.” Our very young children may not realize the comparison, but our older children, tweens, teens and beyond do. They know there is a big difference between a trip to Pittsburgh or Baltimore and a deployment to Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan or Iraq. They also know the difference between a weeklong trip and a twelve month deployment. But, I can tell you from personal experience that our children do not look at this as a competition. They feel sympathetic when other children’s parents travel frequently for work or other reasons. But, overall, it is best to just avoid these comparisons.
- “How sad your dad is always away.” Although these are often heartfelt words, it is best to try and avoid anything that brings up or interjects feelings of pity. Again, we know this often said with the best of intentions. But, coming from having experienced this even as an adult, this is one of those statements that causes feelings of pity and sadness.
- “Isn’t it hard making new friends all the time?” Military kids do not need to be reminded of how hard their life can be is, they know this all too well. Making new friends over and over again is one of those areas that are tough, even for our most outgoing of children. Instead point out how making new friends often, makes them strong, adaptable and independent. Highlight the positives of how this makes them especially unique in a good way. And, welcoming our children into groups, at school and beyond, is a great way to be a part of the Blue Star Community.
- “Is your mom/dad only in the reserves? The reality is since 9/11 almost half (45%) of our deployments related to the War on Terror(ism) or The Global War on Terrorism, are/were reservists. All components are being deployed overseas. We are a proud military force that serve in many different capacities.
- “Are you parents super strict?” We are typically a fairly disciplined group just by the nature of our lifestyle, but we are not ruling our home with an iron stick. (Although, that’s not to say we are not creative either.) But, we are most likely, using many of the same methods you are.
- “Aren’t you afraid they will get shot, hurt or die?” Believe it or not our children get ask this very raw and frightening question. Possibly for our older children this is a discussion between close friends and that could be helpful, in the proper environment. But, an off-the-cuff statement is not. We know that they are serving often in dangerous parts of the world and in war zones. Of course we are afraid, but it should never be spoken about unless this is part of a very in-depth, caring discussion. And, for our younger children, these discussions require proper follow up and support. Leave this for those who are closest to the family, and if needed, the support networks within the military community.
- As parents, we need to be careful what we talk about within ear shot of our children. Discussing deployments, deaths, moves and other difficult military-life subjects, often happen because they are on our mind so much of the time. It is easy to start a discussion, and not realize that possibly we’ve said too much until we see our children’s faces with doubts and questions. We, as parents, need to be very aware of this one and tread these waters gently.
Next, some creative conversations starters that will encourage our military kids. And, many of these are already being asked and used to start great conversations. These are fun and really positive ways to connect with our military kids.
What to Say:
- “Where are some of the favorite places you have lived?” Children that have lived many places around the country and even around the world, love sharing these experience. They have been to places that other children have only read about in books. Sharing these experiences truly make them feel like the special, smart and unique individual they are!
- “What are your favorite foods from another area or country? What was in it?” This is a great one to ask. It really allows them to share specific experiences they have had in their young life. Food is always a fun topic of conversation.
- “What do you like about moving?” Asking them to share the positive side of moving, is always a great way to engage in conversation. It pulls out the positive side to a sometimes difficult part of military life.
- “Have you ever lived somewhere more than once?” This is a fun one to keep the conversation moving especially between new found friends.
- “What does your mom/dad do?” Our military kids love talking about what their parent’s position/job is in the military. It is a great source of pride for them. This is a topic that our children typically enjoy discussing and it allows for great conversations to unfold.
- “Do you have a funny story to share from living in another area/country?” Funny stories shared make for fun moments. I personally love this one as a great conversation starter!
- “Where is your mom/dad?” If currently deployed this is a nice one to use and one that also require listening. And this can lead to great follow up questions such as, “How long have they been there?” and “Where else have they been? “
- “Thank you” Our children are serving our nation, too. They sacrifice greatly in their sweet, young lives and into teens and beyond. This is always a great option when unsure of what to say!
Hopefully, this spurs some thoughtful discussions and makes our conversations with our military kids just that much more encouraging and uplifting. They are such a resilient, courageous group, and they truly deserve the best we can all give them!
And of course, a big thank you to our communities. You reach out and listen, and care for our military kids (and us!) beyond what we could even imagine. Our communities are made up of people who show that in a variety of ways, every day. That truly keeps us going through long deployments and just day to day military life. We truly live in an outstanding country and committed Blue Star Communities. Thank you!