Serving with My Parents: The Life of a Military Child

Growing up is tough enough. But for the 1.2 million military children of active-duty members worldwide, it can be especially tough, particularly in school, where normalcy and routine are critical for high academic achievement and positive social growth. Military children are some of the most resilient children in the world. With their parents, they are constantly on the move. Whether it’s in the United States or overseas in foreign lands, they learn after a few moves to quickly adjust to new communities, new friends, and adapt as necessary to their new surroundings.

National PTA, with its more than 4 million members, believes that supporting the military child takes a schoolwide effort. School staff should be educated on the academic and social-emotional challenges military children face. A positive school environment, built upon caring relationships among all participants — students, teachers, staff, administrators, parents, and community members — has been shown to impact not only academic performance but also positively influence emotions and behaviors of students.

Nationwide, we have not done enough to meet the needs of military children. A study published in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics found that one-third of school-age military children show psychosocial behaviors such as being anxious, worrying often, and crying more frequently. The repeated and extended separations and increased hazards of deployment compound stressors in military children's lives. As a result, military children usually form very tight bonds with each other, especially when assigned overseas. As they communicate with each other and share the stories, they help each other through the transitions. And with today’s technology, they are able to remain in contact via Facebook, Skype, Instagram, and the many social media platforms that are prevalent.

My two children, Candice and Tre, attended eight schools in 12 years, including two years of home schooling. While they quickly learned to seek out new friends and fit into their different environments, adjusting to changing school systems and varying requirements was challenging at times. For example, depending on the time of permanent changes of station (PCS), it was sometimes difficult to get them on athletic teams or involved in other activities.

One great positive that comes with being a military child is the amazing places, cultures, and subcultures that they are exposed to. As they accompany their parent(s) during duty assignments, military kids have unique opportunities to learn different languages; develop appreciation of different philosophies, values, and beliefs; and see sights that others only dream of. These exposures provide valuable experiences that serve military kids well in adulthood — both in the workplace and beyond.

As National PTA focuses on the military child during the month of April, we recognize the sacrifices that all military children make, and the supporting role that they play, with our nation’s servicemen and servicewomen. National PTA has been a longtime supporter of the military child. In recent history, the delegates at the 2010 National PTA convention passed a resolution in support of the Interstate Compact Act by the Military Interstate Children’s Compact Commission. The goal of this act is to provide for the uniform treatment of military children transferring between school districts and states, and to assist in facilitating smooth transitions and mitigating different requirements across diverse school systems. Forty-six states have joined the Compact since 2008.

Last year, National PTA started a campaign called Every Child in Focus to strengthen family engagement in schools by celebrating the achievements and understanding the struggles of diverse populations. The campaign is a school-year-long series that provides educators, families, and PTAs with the information they need to deepen family engagement in schools through the PTA National Standards for Family-School Partnerships. Each month, National PTA spotlights the educational issues surrounding a particular group, highlights their accomplishments, and focuses on ways to help foster Family-School Partnerships. We also share resources and advocacy tools to help understand the needs of every child.

April is the Month of the Military Child. With some 80 percent of military children enrolled in public school, we are encouraging parents and teachers to use every opportunity to make military children feel as welcomed and comfortable as possible. I know that PTA members are going to do their part. Let’s all renew our focus to help military children mitigate the consequences of situations beyond their control.

Visit National PTA’s Every Child in Focus webpage for more information on PTA programs that help military children.

Otha Thornton is the president of National PTA, a retired United States Army Lieutenant Colonel, and father of two.

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