The Depot

The Resilience and Adaptability of Military Children

military children navy family

April is National Month of the Military Child, and it’s an opportunity to shine a light on the unique challenges that military children face. As the kids of military personnel and veterans, military children have unparalleled resilience and grit. They are proud of their families’ service because they have helped their families serve by making sacrifices themselves.

The annual celebration recognizes more than 1.6 million military children who face many challenges and unique experiences as a result of their parents' service. Each year, the the Defense Department joins national, state and local government, schools, military serving organizations, companies and private citizens in celebrating military children and the sacrifices they make.

Military children are recognized this month because it is important as a nation to care for those who safeguard the country. That means that as a nation, we also care for military children and provide them not just with great quality of life, but also with the tools and resources necessary to help them manage the rigors of being in a military family.

Military families often move every few years which presents challenges to military children. They have to start all over again and then in a couple of years, they have to repeat the same severing act, over and over. Not only do they have to meet new neighbors, teachers and classmates, but each new school might have different graduation requirements or curriculums. Imagine moving to a new location a week before your birthday. Military children might not have anyone to invite because they are new.

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Military children often find out that their favorite sport or activity isn’t offered at their new school, or where their parent has been reassigned. Military children lose touch with their best friends. All of these hardships can be heartbreaking and are frequently unseen.

Because military children don’t wear a uniform, most of the time their peers and teachers have no idea what they are going through. Millions of military children in classrooms across the United States have parents who are active-duty military service members, National Guard or Reserve personnel, or veterans.

Additionally, more than 2 million military children live with a veteran who has a disability. Because of their families’ service, military children understand things like war and sacrifice a lot earlier than their peers. They become strong and resilient because they have to be.

Most military children don’t live on bases; they are a part of civilian communities. That means that many are left without a support system that understands their unique needs. On military bases there is commonality, but in the civilian suburbs, support for military children might be hard to find since many do not understand the challenges of military service.

Military members are trained and expected to put the mission first at all times. That means that their personal needs and the needs of their families are second to the needs of the military. That said, a big part of being in the military is maintaining military readiness. Service members have to be able to adapt to the needs of the military mission.

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Military children also feel the effect of being mission ready. To them, it means their parents work commitments, schedules, and even future plans can change quickly or unexpectedly. It can sometimes mean canceled events or plans.

A constant state of uncertainty can be taxing emotionally and physically on military children. They might not be able to let their guard down because they are anticipating change. The usual security of routines may not feel comforting to military children because they know that at any moment, their seemingly stable lives can get disrupted.

Military children, unlike the children of civilians, are often separated from their military parents. Their parents can be away for weeks or months of training or they can be deployed. The stressors of this type of life cannot be overstated. Imagine what military children endure when their parent is there every day, then suddenly, that person is gone for months and maybe even years if the parents are assigned to an unaccompanied duty station, which means living apart from them for one to two years.

When the military parents are away, it normally means that military children have increased responsibility at home. In addition to carrying anxiety about their parent’s safety, military children have the added burden of doing more at home.

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Not to mention, military children not only get less time to spend with their military parents, but they also are limited on how much or how often they get to talk to them. Which means, as military children are growing up, their military parents are missing milestones. But if there is a bright side to that it is that military children grow up faster and are usually fiercely independent since some may have had to solve their own problems and been more resourceful.

Most military children move three times more often than most civilian kids. Military children could move six to nine times while growing up with some moving at least a dozen times. Those moves bring changes which all impact military children. New: friends, teachers, neighborhoods, weather, food, languages, cultures, and regional norms.

Frequently moving can make military children feel like they struggle to feel rooted. They might struggle to get close to others because they know they will be saying goodbye soon. They might not get emotionally involved with others.

For all of the challenges military children face, they are all overwhelmingly resilient and like their parents, they are motivated individuals who adapt and overcome. Their selflessness to help their parents defend the nation should be recognized which is why April is devoted to recognizing their unique challenges and sacrifices.  

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In 1986, Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger designated each April as “The Month of the Military Child.” It is a time to thank military children for their service, recognize their incredible strength, and offer them support in facing their unique challenges.