Shining eyes and happy smiles. This is how the public often sees military children. These joyful homecoming images are broadcast on the news, shared on social media and printed in newspapers and magazines.
While everything seems wonderful and picture-perfect, many military children face hidden struggles behind the scenes.
4 Problems Military Children Face That Aren’t Talked About
Anxiety and Separation Fears
Over the last 15 years, deployment and operational tempos have been high. This means that for many military children, mom, dad or both parents have been frequently away from home.
Forward deployed troops have been in active combat zones, taking fire. Even at home, accidents happen during TDY, TAD or routine training exercises.
Children might act out at school, home or both. They could show unusual aggression or attention-seeking behaviors. Some children withdraw or become distant from friends, teachers and family members. Still other children become noticeably upset when their parent leaves, even for short periods, or when there are unexpected changes, like a substitute teacher at school. Grades might decline too.
All of these reactions are common and can coexist.
If you or a teacher notices a significant difference in your child’s emotions, behaviors or academic performance, take notice. Acting sooner rather than later can make all the difference.
A great first step is to reach out to the Military Family Life Counselor on your base or the school’s counselor. Set up a meeting to share your concerns with them and give permission for them to engage with your child. After speaking with your child, they might be able to offer options for ongoing solutions or care.
Another great step is to connect with Military One Source. They offer free, confidential help on the phone and through referrals to providers near you. You might be able to access mental health care and solutions quickly with this resource.
Next, reach out to your child’s school and teachers. Explain your concerns and ask to develop a plan together to help address the changes in your child.
It’s important to approach this as a team, with mental health providers, school and home working together to help your child get back on track.
Gaps in Learning
On average, military children move 6 to 9 times during their K-12 school years. Every time a military family moves, they must adjust to a new set of state learning standards and expectations. Even if a child is able to stay within the DoDEA system, there might still be small gaps in knowledge.
With each move, military children miss several weeks of class time. All that absent time can add up, with missing information about fractions here or confusion about phonics there.
Working with a tutor, either in person or online, is a great way for military families to help close those academic gaps. Tutor.com offers free online tutoring for military families.
Additionally, many military spouses are credentialed teachers. Often these education professionals offer reasonably priced tutoring and have a good understanding of what military children need.
School Transferring Issues
For students in high school, a PCS can spell disaster for their academic ranking, graduation timeline or transcript. Too often there is confusion about which courses are required at different schools or how GPAs are calculated. While schools are supposed to make good faith efforts to ensure on-time graduation, there can still be issues.
Students who have IEPs and 504 Plan, as well as those qualified for Gifted and Talented Education, also face issues when they PCS.
There are no federal protections and only limited state guidelines for students identified as Gifted and Talented. This means that a student could qualify in School A, but be dropped from the program in School B.
IEPs and 504 Plans are federally protected education plans that must be followed with fidelity. Even during a PCS, plans are supposed to be followed as closely as possible. However, different states have varying qualification and classification standards, as well as different resources available. IEPs and 504 Plans can look very different school to school, and state to state.
Plus, for all of these different education plans, the school has the right to re-evaluate students to determine eligibility.
Before you move, connect with your next school and coordinate transferring documents from the old school. Let the new school know about any special circumstances or educational needs your child might have.
As you’re transferring, connect with the School Liaison Officer (SLO) at your next base. They can often assist with transferring everything that your child needs. They should be able to assist you with using MIC3, an agreement designed to assist military children moving between states.
If you get stuck or have concerns, you might need more help than the SLO can provide or that you can’t navigate solo. At that point, it’s time to consider hiring a professional education advocate. There are several advocates in our community that specialize in assisting military families and/or work remotely.
Caring for Injured Parents
All too often, parents return from deployment with physical or mental injuries. These injuries might be very visible or they could be hidden and undiagnosed. Either way, military children are involved in the daily care of that parent and must cope with life changes.
There are many changes to family dynamics and behaviors when a parent returns with hidden or visible injuries. Too often children are shouldering a larger share of adult responsibility at home.
The stressors are similar to experiencing anxiety or stress due to deployments or separations. The symptoms of a child who is overwhelmed with coping with life changes due to their parent’s injuries might be the same as well.
If your family is experiencing changes due to your service member’s injury, it’s important to reach out for help. The Elizabeth Dole Foundation offers resources and connections to help caregivers and families of wounded warriors.
Asking for assistance from other families members, friends or the community is important. It may feel hard, but building a strong team is important for everyone’s long-term success and well being.
Finally, beginning individual and family counseling can be beneficial. You can find a provider through a referral from your doctor or through Military One Source’s resources.
What problems do you think military children face?
(Full disclosure: Meg Flanagan operates MilKids Ed, an education advocacy service and blog for military families.)