April is the Month of the Military Child. Each year the Department of Defense honors military children and recognizes the role they play in their parent’s service. Here at the Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic in Dallas, we recognize the impact of children in the life of our veterans as well.
April is, in fact, also the month for over 60 other topics which include, National Month of the Young Child, National Mental Health Awareness Month, Stress awareness month, National Month of Hope and even National Humor Month. Internationally, there is even a date for Pillow Fight observance in April.
All of these observances and recognitions have relationships in common. They recognize the importance of focusing on the connections and the impact that service continues to have on those we love. They also recognize that all children are different and that each family situation is different. Developmental differences are also an important piece of what makes each child and family unique.
An infant and toddler are making attachments and beginning development of motor skills, language skills and thinking and reasoning skills and self-soothing and regulation skills. As a parent, your role is to participate in the “dance” of encouraging growth, being the protector and nurturer and allowing for limited independence coupled with reigning in boundaries and structure.
Children from three to six years old develop skills through play. They want to please adults but can test limits, whine, cry and have extreme emotions. Their task is to build confidence in self and world by building relationships with parent(s). Parents need to assure attention, love, encouragement, and comfort. Establishing and sticking to limits, modeling positive social behavior and, of course, keep a sense of humor are all ways to accomplish that assurance.
Elementary and middle school aged kids seeks peer approval, seek close friends, develop a greater awareness of right and wrong and may be critical of adults and begin to resent being told what to do. Parents can encourage hobbies, and age appropriate challenges provide opportunities for peer interaction, praise efforts, assign responsibility, encourage and provide for increasing independence and maintain boundaries.
Teens are adapting to physiological changes and are evaluating their own beliefs and forming new conceptualization of the world. It is natural for them to begin the process of separation and learn the tasks of visualization and preparing for their future. A parent can help to interpret changes by setting limitations while providing wider access to experience, and giving guidance while reestablishing working definitions of closeness and distance. Parents can provide a safe environment to try new things and retreat temporarily if needed.
For veteran families there is often a time of adjusting to the “new normal” or adapting to new neighborhoods and schools and even the need to address health and employment issues of the veteran. Previously available supports and routines may not be present. Strategies to address the needs of children might be establishing a new tradition such as family game night. Developing a routine of bike riding, hiking or some other physical activity together may help. Plan screen-free meal time where discussion happens. Challenge each family member to try one new thing each month and have a focused time to reflect.
The Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinics are available to help your family navigate some of the challenges of adjustment. Please feel free to contact us to speak with a trained professional.
By Janet Cohen Centola, LCSW
Clinician, Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic at Metrocare in Dallas