Creating Safe Spaces for Military Youth
For the past 10 years, I have had the honor to serve Active Duty, Reserve, and National Guard children and youth across the county, and the month of April always holds a special place in my heart as it is the Month of the Military Child. The Department of Defense has dedicated a whole month to recognizing and thanking military youth for the selfless sacrifices they make each and every day for their family and country. These youth face a future of constant uncertainly and change. It is often said that the constant in the life of military families are family members and furniture. In fact, a military youth will say goodbye to more people by the time they are 18 than the average person does in their whole lifetime. Therefore it is no surprise then that that average military youth will change schools six to nine times before they graduate high school.
The children and youth who are able to cope and thrive despite the stressors of the military culture are often those who have formed connections within their community and caring adults such as teachers, afterschool staff, or coaches. These caring adults provide a safe place for military kids to unpack their emotions, learn new skills, celebrate accomplishments, and enjoy the innocence of childhood a bit longer.
As a youth worker, you have the power to create these safe spaces for military youth to gain essential resiliency skills. Remember to be intentional in how you design and implement your programs.
- Incorporate activities which help children and youth explore and manage emotions, as military kids can experiences new and conflicting emotions when their parent or parents leave for trainings or deployments.
- Include teaching life skills such as cooking or healthy eating, as military kids must accept more adult responsibilities around the house when a parent is gone.
- Consider offering a babysitting class or club.
- Embrace the use of technology, as photos, video, and text messaging are common ways for military families to communicate during a separation.
- Allow time for small group or one-on-one conversations in order to increase trust and build relationships between staff and military kids.
If you work with military youth within your program, take time to get to know them, consider ways to recognize them during the Month of the Military Child, and wear purple on April 13th during the national “Purple Up! for Military Kids” initiative.
It is important to note Reserve and National Guard youth will not immediately self-identify as a military child if their parent or parents have not been deployed recently.