Month of the Military Child: Third Culture Children

Rhonda Galloway

Rhonda Galloway

April is designated as the Month of the Military Child; a time to honor the unique experiences of the dependent children of military members serving at home and overseas.  There is a common saying in the military, “when one person joins, the whole family serves.”  It is not only the service member or veteran going through the common challenges the military brings (i.e. frequent transitions, losses, and separations from loved ones), but these are shared experiences that impact the family system.  A strength of the Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinics is their recognition of this to offer support for the entire family, including individual therapy services for children.

Children need a safe place to recover from life’s difficulties and have their experiences heard.  In military families it can be common for the child’s voice to get lost or forgotten, with the focus being on the service member.  Military children tend to mirror their caregivers as being stoic and having that “warrior ethos” that may be a barrier to seeking help.  This can cause problems with increased emotional distress, problem behaviors in home or school, or unresolved and complicated grief.  As counselors, educators, and community members working with military connected children we must create a space for the military child to feel comfortable sharing their unique experiences.  It is important to meet the military child with the same cultural humility that we would any member of the family to gain more understanding of their specific experiences, challenges, and strengths.

As I reflect on the Month of the Military Child, the term “Third Culture Children” comes to mind.  “Third Culture Children” was coined to describe an individual who, having spent a significant part of the developmental years in a culture other than the parents’ culture, develops a sense of relationship to all of the cultures while not having full ownership by any.  Elements from each culture are incorporated into the life experience, but the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar experience.  I frequently see this phenomenon when working with military children.  Just ask a military child the simple question, “where are you from?”  You may be met with hesitation or faced with confusion from the child.  Military children often struggle with identity and belonging but find a sense of connection within the military culture.  This can be attributed to frequent moves, transitions, and separation from family of origin.  The average child in a military family will move six to nine times during a school career.  That’s an average of three times more frequently than non-military families.

Army veterans are “Soldiers for Life”, even after retirement.  Military children have the same honor of being a military child for life, commonly referred to as “military brat.”  Their situations are all different, but they are left with the shared experience of being from a unique culture that makes up less than 0.5 percent of the U.S. population.  Despite the challenges a military child may face, they are incredibly resilient.  Military children have an outstanding ability to bounce back, adapt to change, and manage life’s difficulties and traumas.  Let’s take this month to gain understanding, show appreciation to our military children past and present, and say thank you for their sacrifices.  How are you going to “Purple Up!” in support of the military child this month? The Cohen Clinics are going to Purple Up on April 10!

Find additional resources on how to support the military child at


By Rhonda Galloway, LPC, LMFT, LCDC
Clinician, Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic at Endeavors in Killeen