Comforting Children About Parents' Military Service
From: Association for Childhood Education International
When parents are called to active military duty, it is often the smallest citizens who bear the biggest burden. Children of military personnel experience the abrupt departure of their parents and the uncertainty of their return. For these children, it is especially important that school be a supportive and secure environment.
As troops around the world are deployed combat duty, base protection, and other tasks, the Association for Childhood Education International (ACEI) is re-releasing these tips to help educators comfort children whose parents are serving in the armed forces.
"There are several key things [for teachers] to remember," explains Dr. Jerry Aldridge, Coordinator of Early Childhood Education, University of Alabama at Birmingham, and a member of ACEI. "First, the age of the child will make a big difference. Younger children in preschool or kindergarten may not fully comprehend why mom or dad has to leave and they may feel abandoned. Older children may develop anger. Some children may blame themselves [thinking] that the parent left because the child was ‘bad' or did not live up to parental expectations."
Dr. Aldridge suggests:
- Encourage the child to talk, share feelings, and discuss the situation openly and honestly.
- Look for changes in behavior such as anxiety, anger, or depression. Make sure the child is referred for appropriate help when necessary.
- Encourage the child to bring mementos associated with the parent to school, which they can keep in a locker, desk, notebook, etc. (if so desired).
- Help and encourage children to write about their feelings. It might be a good time to implement interactive journals, in which the teacher responds to what children have written.
- Do not lie to or patronize the child. Do not make unwarranted comments such as, "Oh, everything will be OK" or "I know your mom (or dad) will come back soon." Even saying things like, "I'm sure your mom (or dad) loves you very much" is not appropriate. What is appropriate is acknowledging and responding to the child's feelings. Comments such as, "I know it's rough when your parent is not around" are more appropriate.
The Teachers' Resource Packet Helping Students Cope in Times of Crisis is available free at www.acei.org.
The Association for Childhood Education International's primary purpose is to promote the inherent rights, education, and well-being of children in the home, school, and community. ACEI publishes the award-winning publication Childhood Education, as well as the Journal of Research in Childhood Education.