April is fast approaching and it’s a very special month! It’s the Month of the Military Child and April 14-20 is the Week of the Young Child. So it’s the perfect time to make plans to shine the spotlight on all of the young children who have parents serving in the military.
In most ways young children from military families are no different than any other young children. They laugh and play, cry and whine, get silly, angry and scared. Like every other child, they learn through experience and they seek out the comfort and joy of the company of others.
On the other hand, the experiences of the military child can be very different. Having a parent in the military might mean that:
- A baby is several months old before she is held in father’s arms
- “Flat Daddy” must be included in every holiday or special event.
- All of a child’s extended family live far away.
- A toddler is frightened when he sees his mother in uniform with full gear, including a rifle
- Bedtime stories are told by way of video
- A child’s vocabulary includes PCS, Afghanistan, deployed
- Grandma and Grandpa are the primary caregivers while mom is deployed, and when mom comes home, they go back to their house.
- Dad is different when he comes home.
- A child gets lots of practice in making a new place “home”
- The highlight of a child’s day is talking with mom via Skype
- Pretending includes shooting, rescuing, combat gear and helicopters
- Mom cries a lot and Dad’s not coming home.
- “Hero” applies to someone a child knows and loves.
One of the simplest but most profound ways we can show young military children that we value them is by listening….
- Listening to their stories and their worries, the things that they’re excited about and the things that they’re angry about…
- Listening without correcting or diverting or minimizing or making light of…
- Listening with our full attention as often as we can.
I know it doesn’t seem like much, but don’t underestimate the power of being listened to. A quote I saw recently says it well:
Listen earnestly to anything that children want to tell you, no matter what. If you don’t listen eagerly to the little stuff when they are little, they won’t tell you the big stuff when they are big, because to them all of it has always been big stuff. Catherine M. Wallace
During this special month when we recognize and celebrate young children from military families, it seems appropriate to invite them to share their stories, experiences, thoughts and feelings with us and with the other children in their child care community. By listening we learn, we show respect, and we place value on their experiences. And that is a profoundly meaningful way to honor military-connected children.
On the lighter side, there are many other fun things we can do to recognize and celebrate the military-connected children in our programs:
- Encourage everyone to wear purple on “Purple Up! For Military Kids Day.” Some states will be celebrating on Friday, April 12, and others will be celebrating on Monday, April 15. Check your state’s Operation Military Kids webpage (see link below) for the date in your state, as well as info on any events that are scheduled.
- Invite a service member or veteran to come visit your program (a parent would be the best choice). Ask them to wear their uniform and bring some of the gear that they use in their job, photos of themselves at work, etc.
- Incorporate military-themed children’s books into your read-aloud times and into your book collection that children can access throughout the day (see the resource links below for a list of books).
However you choose to celebrate and honor young military children this month, I hope you’ll also recognize and value the important role that you play in serving these families who sacrifice so much on our behalf.
Let us know in the comments how you are planning to celebrate the Month of the Military Child – we’d love to hear!
- Info and ideas about the Week of the Young Child
- Info on each state’s Month of the Military Child activities
- List of children’s books with military themes
- For info and resources to support you as you work with military families, “like” the Child Care and Military Families Facebook page