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Military Life and Children

Most military children have the following experiences in common: frequent relocations, disruptions of education, separations from friends, feeling like an outsider in new schools and communities, missing a sense of permanency and connection, being separated from the military parent while that parent is away from home, dealing with the emotions of the non-military parent who is left behind, and feeling alone or unknown by others.  How these experiences affect children depends on their personalities.

Outgoing children are more likely to see school and community changes as an opportunity to meet new people; shy children may see school and community changes as intimidating and scary.  However, even outgoing children typically experience a sense of loss and deprivation regarding the lack of continuity of friendships.

Highly adaptable children may not be bothered by educational disruptions; children who prefer routine may find disruptions distressing.  Children in more advanced grades may find school changes increasingly disruptive to their education.  Changes in the schools’ student-teacher ratios may adversely affect children’s ability to learn and feel comfortable in the classroom. Special needs children and gifted children may find it more difficult to adapt to educational disruptions.  New schools may or may not have the resources to accommodate their special needs or to offer accelerated courses.  Educators in the new schools may have greater or lesser knowledge regarding and sensitivity to these students.

Never having a home town may inspire a sense of being a citizen of the world (a valuable trait in this globalized world) or a sense of loss for lacking personal “roots”.  Being exposed to foreign cultures and languages can be a wonderful experience in learning, becoming well-rounded, and adapting to our globalized world.

Tangible goods may take on more or less significance among military children than among non-military children, depending on how the military children felt about growing up without a permanent home of their own.  Some adults who were military children emphasize the importance of owning and maintaining a home and its contents: stability is a top priority.  Other adults who were military children emphasize the importance of adaptability and embracing opportunities.  For these people, long-term home ownership and maintenance is constricting.  Renting a living space and having the flexibility to relocate quickly and easily as job or other opportunities arise elsewhere are top priorities.

Being repeatedly separated from the military parent can create the perception that time together is to be valued when it happens but not seen as essential on a regular basis . . . or it can create a sense of longing for consistent togetherness.

Dealing with the emotions of the non-military parent can be seen as bonding or stressful.  How children will perceive this issue is primarily dependent on how nurturing the children are and how well the children relate to the emotions of the non-military parent.  If nurturing children perceive their non-military parents as having normal, relatable emotions upon the deployment of the military parent, these children will likely have a positive response to dealing with their non-military parents’ emotions.  If nurturing children perceive their non-military parents as having “dramatized” or “hurtful” emotional reactions, these children will likely experience stress.  Non-nurturing children will typically experience stress when dealing with their parents’ emotions.

Feeling alone can be positive (i.e., the benefits of private, introspective time) or negative (i.e., loneliness).  Extroverted children are more likely to struggle with loneliness during alone time.  Introverted children are typically more comfortable with alone time.

While the experiences that are common among most military children may affect the children differently based on the children’s personalities, there are some effects that are statistically more common.  Military children tend to be more resilient, adaptable, independent, and world savvy than non-military children.  More military than non-military children struggle to maintain deep, lasting relationships as adults.  Military children, when grown, tend to prefer a mobile lifestyle, relocating communities for jobs and opportunities more frequently than non-military children when grown.

In sum, there are advantages and disadvantages in the affects of military life on children.

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