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Children have faced war and threats of war throughout their lifetimes. Many have had friends, and family members deployed for active duty, some have returned, and some have not. The media shows us all photos of death and destruction which brings the reality of was instantly into our homes. It is not uncommon to hear the names of dead servicemen and women on the radio or TV or in the newspaper. Our children watch and listen.
Loneliness and anxiety grip many children and teenagers as they wait daily to hear of the safety and well-being of parents, siblings, and friends. Some older students are living alone as their single parent was deployed while most live with relatives or guardians. Schools mourn together when a parent or sibling is killed in the war and often anticipate when the next tragedy may happen. Many students say that every time there is news of another soldier killed, there is a slowing of time and a holding of one's breath, until the name of the soldier is released. When I visit schools often children and teens ask me how to cope with their brother or mother who is deployed. One boy wrote me "my brother just returned but leaves again in two months. I don't know if I will handle the daily worrying again. Please help me."
Schools and adults in children's lives can talk about such words as: deployment, battle fatigue, post traumatic stress disorder, sand storms and other words that are often unfamiliar to children. Some children are shocked to learn that sometimes people get killed accidentally in war: helicopter accidents, US soldiers and their allies accidentally shooting each other, soldiers accidentally shooting Iraqi people who weren't soldiers, and even dealing with the event recently when one of our US soldiers intentionally killed a few of our own soldiers. These are difficult losses to comprehend.
It helps to show children articles like the one in Time for Kids called "Life for the Troops." The article was written at a second grade level. The pictures showed soldiers resting when they could and even taking naps on the road after a nighttime of battle. One showed a soldier's gear that weighed 120 lbs. They even showed the soldiers eating and the US military instant dinners of meat loaf and jerky chicken. Troops were shown reading letters from their children and their emails too. One soldier showed his photos that he carries on him at all times of his wife and 10 year old son. It is strapped to his arm. These pictures helped the children to lesson their fears about the soldiers getting hurt. Talking about the war and learning some facts about the life of a soldier, the children gained a deeper understanding of how soldiers feel and live during wartime. This helped to lesson their anxiety. Knowledge really is power and children need information to help them understand things on their level.
Children enjoy writing letters to soldiers. They can write to a classmate's family member or to someone they don't know. They can thank them for keeping our country safe.
In an 8th grade class, a child's father had been deployed recently and was to be in Iraq for a year. This girl, Emily cried a lot in school and talked about her dad as much as she could. She emailed him and wrote to him daily. It was hard for her to concentrate and she shared how sad the holidays were without him home. This classroom met and discussed their feelings about war and tried to figure out how to help Emily. One girl shared that since her parents got divorced she didn't see her dad much and missed him a lot as he lived in another state. One boy shared that his mom died five years prior and he missed her too. Another girl shared that she was adopted and wondered what her biological parents were like. These adolescents were shocked to see how much loss many of them had already experienced. Emily suddenly shared that she felt more normal now, knowing that other kids went through similar losses.
Many students find it tough to concentrate when they are worrying about their parent or sibling
Parents on their own often lack the support of their deployed partner in disciplining and running a home. One mom begged her deployed husband on the phone to discipline their son through a note. He would not saying he didn't want a possible last letter to his son toe be negative.
A deployed mother begged the school guidance counselor to help her daughter with college applications since she could not be there to do it herself.
Some children will run home to check the news accounts of war daily
Counselors may need to intervene with at risk kids who have a parent deployed
Many teachers report that these students have an increase in discipline and academic problems
Staff describe more truancy, vulgar language, wandering attention and poor grades in these students
One understanding high school principal said, "We can't bring their parents back or stop them from going over there. But educators can create a sense of normalcy for all of the challenging issues their students face. They can help them believe they are part of a school community that supports the multiple losses and complex feelings associated with deployed military friends and relatives and make accommodations for their learning and mental health."
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Suggested books for children and educators:
Feelings about War (1991) by Corder and Haizlip: a coloring book for young children that addresses questions and concerns that they may have about war.
My Daddy is a Soldier (2002) by S. and K. Hilbrecht: a story for young children that speaks to the many losses children face when their parent is a part of the military. Ages 4-7
Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes (1993) by E. Coerr a true story about a Japanese girl who is dying from her exposure to radiation from the bomb at Hiroshima. Her hope for peace and life is symbolized in her paper cranes.
Managing Sudden Violent Loss in Schools by Maureen Underwood and Karen Dunne-Maxim (1993) is a good resource on sudden violent death in school
Raising Our Children to be Resilient (2006) by Linda Goldman Wonderful resource for educators and parents who wish to support children through many difficult losses including war, terrorism, violence in schools and communities and disruption of family systems. This book is full of practical techniques, interventions and strategies to help children in need with the ultimate goal of empowering your children to be resilient in today's world.
New Jersey: Vet Center Support Groups: 4 Veteran Centers. Support groups and related services for both combat veterans of all wars (Iraq, Afghan, Vietnam, WWII) and their families to deal with PTSD and other readjustment issues. Write Ann Talmage, Vet Center, 2 Broad Street, Suite 703, Bloomfield, NJ 07003. For group times and types contact the closest center: Bloomfield (ESSEX County) 973-748-0980; Secaucus (HUDSON County) 201-223-7787; Ewing (MERCER County) 609-882-5744; Ventnor (ATLANTIC County) 609-487-8387. Website: http://www.vetcenter.va.gov Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Military Family Support Group: Mutual support for families who have a loved one currently serving in the armed forces. Sharing of thoughts, fears, anxieties, bravery, love and strength felt towards loved-ones while they are at war, going to war or back from war. Meets Tuesdays, 7:30pm, Community Hall, 500 Third Street, Carlstadt. For information: call 201-438-5526.
Balkan and Persian Gult Military Support Group. Informal support network for families and friends of American troops in Persian Gulf, Bosnia and Kosovo. For information call : 908-782-6722. Email: email@example.com
Army and Air National Guard Family Support. Offers support for any family member of military personnel. Mutual support to discuss or share any issues of concern. Family member doesn not have to be on active duty. For meeting information call : 732-937-6290.
TAPS: Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) www.taps.org
Provides support for persons who have lost a loved one while serving in the armed forces (Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, National Guard, Reserves, Service Academies, Coast Guard or contractors serving beside the military). Offers networking, crisis information, problem solving assistance and liaison with military agencies. Also TAPS youth programs. Annual seminar. Write TAPS, 910 17th Street, NW, Suite 800, Washington DC, 20006. Call 1-800-959-8277 or 202-588-8277. Web site: www.taps.org email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Wonderful Support for Young Children who Have a Parent in the Military:
Sesame Street Talk, Listen, Connect: Deployments, Homecomings and Changes: A bilingual educational outreach initiative designed for military families and their young children to share. Talk with your child, spouse and those around you. Remember to communicate with your child's caregivers and teachers too. Listen to your child's concerns. Remind him or her that new routines and situations can lead to growth and to new experiences. Connect with your community. Ask relatives, friends and neighbors for help when you need it. Your family is not alone- you can work through the challenges, and appreciate the joys together. Kit includes two DVDs (one called Changes about when a parent is injured in service), a magazine for parents and caregivers and a children's activity poster.
Deployments: Creating Connections
Pre-deployments: The period of time before the service member leaves may cause anxiety in children and family. Advance planning, along with a big dose of reassurance, will go a long way in helping everyone navigate through it. When a parent is being deployed, it is important to communicate fully.
Prepare and plan together. Let caregivers and key people know that a parent is leaving. Start a support system of people you'll be counting on for help. Inform all of those involved in your child's care.
Keep family connections strong. Create a "thinking of you" pillow. Stuff one of the service member's t-shirts and sew it closed. The child can hug it tight.
Encourage your child to let you know how he or she is feeling with words, faces, art, play and questions. This way you can help the child adjust. Assure your child that all of his/her feelings are normal and okay. Reassure your child that you are there for them.
Children each react differently. Ask older children to help out a bit, let them know that they are part of your family team. The older sibling can encourage the younger sibling to draw a picture for the parent who is deployed. However please don't put the oldest child into the parent position. They too need to be able to express thier feelings as well as their worries, concerns nd questions.
Ask others for help. Don't be afraid to seek assistance.
Be careful with the news of the war that comes on over the TV, radio, Internet and phone. Your child may hear things even when you don't realize it. Communicate this to relatives, friends and others who interact with the child.
Stay connected to the deployed parent. Use emails, phone calls, photos and drawings. Your little one can say goodnight to Daddy or Mommy by the moon at a prearranged time each night. The parent who is deployed is saying goodnight to the same moon, even though far away.
Stick to routines as much as possible. Routines help children feel safe and secure.
Talk about the homecoming date as open-ended. Dad or mom will be home soon, as soon as their job is finished. Keep a calendar and x out the days that pass or make a paper chain and add a new link each day. Put a penny in a jar for each additional day. When the parent returns the child and parent can use it to buy something special.
Web sites for Military Families:
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