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Five Resources for Military Families

Currently, in the United States, there are 2,129,777 military personnel and 2,582,001 family members, including spouses, children, and adult dependents (Department of Defense Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Military Community and Family Policy, 2020). Military family life is unique and is often accompanied by a variety of challenges that may include experiencing frequent relocations, living away from extended family, and enduring multiple periods of separation from the Service member. However, many organizations exist to help families navigate these challenges and provide support to lessen or alleviate stressors associated with military life. In honor of National Veterans and Military Families Month, the Thrive team of research professionals would like to offer our appreciation to service-connected families and highlight a few organizations that are available to help military families thrive.

Military OneSource

Available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and 365 days a year, Military OneSource (MOS) serves as a gateway to information and referral for matters related to military life. The website is rich with information on topics such as moving, deployments, child care, spouse employment, and financial readiness. Active duty Service members and their families also have access to counselors who specialize in areas such as mental health, finances, and career development. In addition, families can connect with MOS via phone, live chat, and on the web.

Military Installation-Specific Services

Military installations worldwide offer a variety of in-person support to military families through robust installation and agency services and programming.

Military and Family Support Centers are staffed with professionals who are skilled in services that are related to military life. Center programming focuses on topics such as parenting, child well-being, financial readiness, and career development. These support centers are available at no cost to active duty families.

Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) services on installations connect military families to leisure and recreational services, amenities, and events. These may include fitness centers, family-friendly fun-runs and festivals, bowling alleys, and sight-seeing trips to local or regional attractions. MWR benefits are often available at little to no cost for military families.

Child and youth service agencies on military installations offer services such as child care, after-school programs, and youth sports and activities. These services provide safe and enriching environments where military-connected children can grow, play, and learn.

Many military installations offer additional support; however, services and agencies may vary by Service branch and location. Visit the website listed below to find installation locations, programs, or services that may be available.

Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program

The Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program (YRRP) supports National Guard and Reserve members and their families by connecting them with resources throughout the deployment cycle. Through YRRP events, Service members and their families connect with local resources before, during, and after deployment and receive information about healthcare, education and training opportunities, financial resources, and legal benefits. Online programming is also available on topics that range from interview preparation to emergency preparedness.

Thrive Universal Parent Education Programs

Thrive offers developmentally age-appropriate, universal, parent-education programs in a web-based format that are designed to empower parents and caregivers as they nurture children from the prenatal period until 18 years of age. Each self-paced parent-education program delivers knowledge, skills, and strategies to bolster positive parenting practices, enhance stress management, and promote child physical health and well-being. Thrive parent-education programs are available online to military and civilian parents and caregivers at no cost.

Military Relief Organizations

When Service members and their families face serious financial hardships, military service relief organizations may be able to assist. These organizations offer help with interest-free loans, grants, or a combination of loans and grants. They can also provide financial preparedness counseling and tuition assistance. Visit the military relief organization websites, listed below, to learn about eligibility and how to apply for aid.

References

U.S. Department of Defense, Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Military Community and Family Policy. (2020). 2020 Demographics profile of the military community. https://download.militaryonesource.mil/12038/MOS/Reports/2020-demographics-report.pdf

Coming Soon! Parental Absence: Parenting through Family Separation

Parental Absence: Parenting through Family Separation is a supplemental parent-education module that was created as part of the Thrive Initiative. This module, like all of the Thrive supplemental modules, has been designed to be an additional and complementary learning opportunity for parents and caregivers who have completed one of the Thrive universal parent-education programs – Take Root, Sprout, Grow, or Branch Out.

When a parent or caregiver needs to parent from afar, regardless of the reason, the entire family unit will probably go through changes and adjustments. Parental Absence: Parenting through Family Separation supports and guides parents and caregivers who are at home with children and parents and caregivers who are away from the home. This supplemental module is designed to help coparents identify their strengths and gives them opportunities to consider strategies they could use to coparent during family separations.

Parental Absence: Parenting through Family Separation offers support to families by discussing topics such as the following:

  • Identify your Circle of Support.
  • Plan and prepare for a parental absence.
  • Learn how to respond to children’s and youth’s reactions to the family separation.
  • React to challenges and feelings that the parent who is away and the at-home parent may face.
  • Consider how to reintegrate into a family unit when the parent who has been away returns.

Parental absence is stressful for parents, caregivers, and children. Learning coping strategies and working together to coparent in a new-to-you way can help you and your coparent build personal and family resilience as everyone navigates this journey together!

Play is Purposeful!

Play is generally defined as activity engaged in for enjoyment, pleasure, or recreation, but, for an infant or toddler, play is an integral part of promoting healthy development! Children learn through play, and play provides sensory, physical, cognitive, and emotional experiences that help build connections in their brains.

Play Promotes Skill Development

Your child is constantly watching you and the world around them and absorbing your actions and those of others. You can purposefully model interactions and teach through your interactions, and playing with your child makes doing so fun! You can use strategies during play interactions with your child to encourage and support skill development in several areas, such as the following:

  • Teach your child communication skills by helping them learn new words and calmly express feelings through words, gestures, and facial expressions.
  • Focus on literacy skills and academic readiness through activities like counting, shape identification, and singing the alphabet song.
  • Incorporate motor-skill development by playing games that include hand-eye coordination, like catching a ball, or grasping and moving objects.
  • Find ways to model and teach social-emotional skills like sharing, waiting patiently for one’s turn, and managing frustration.
  • Provide opportunities for your child to make choices and work on developing their problem-solving skills.
  • Explore your child’s curiosity and creativity through activities like imaginative storytelling.

Play Strengthens Attachment and Attunement

Play also provides an opportunity for you to demonstrate to your child aspects that are important for healthy attachment such unconditional love; safety; that they are heard, seen, and valued; and that they will be comforted and supported when needed (Brown & Elliott, 2016).

Consider this example. A parent and toddler are enjoying putting together a simple puzzle of animal-shaped pieces; while fitting the pieces into the puzzle, they are giggling as they make silly animal sounds. When the child becomes frustrated by not being able to fit a piece, the parent patiently reassures the child with gentle words and a loving touch. In this simple example, the loving interaction with this parent comforted the child and built skills for emotional regulation.

In addition, play gives you opportunities to share your culture and values. By doing this, you can help build your child’s sense of belonging while also molding pro-social beliefs (e.g., respect for diversity, compassion, honesty).

Furthermore, play creates opportunities to observe what your child is experiencing and expressing. It allows you to increase your attunement to your child, which means you can better recognize, understand, and engage with their inner thoughts and feelings. Parents and caregivers can learn so much about their children during play when they make an effort to notice! You can learn the following about your child if you purposely observe your child and their behaviors during play:

  • personality traits (e.g., sensitive, persistent, cautious, agreeable, optimistic)
  • temperament (e.g., activity/energy level, reactivity, adaptability)
  • interests (e.g., trains, dinosaurs)
  • likes and dislikes (e.g., song or book preferences, what frustrates the child)
  • signals and emotional cues (e.g., rubs eyes when tired)
  • preferred ways to be calmed and soothed (e.g., rocked, hugged)

Engage in Different Types of Play

There are different types of play, and each type provides interaction opportunities for connection, communications, affection, modeling, and teaching. For example, during constructive play, a child constructs, shapes, or builds something (e.g., using building blocks), and this type of play builds fine motor and problem-solving skills. Other types of play build social skills such as cooperative play (e.g., building sandcastles together) and competitive play (e.g., playing a board game). Imagination is sparked with dramatic or fantasy play (e.g., child acts out situations and roles with a puppet) or symbolic play (e.g., using a cardboard box as a house, drinking water from a play tea set). Some play is cognitively focused like language play (e.g., rhyming words), while other play is physical and builds gross- or fine-motor skills like functional play (e.g., using a toy vacuum) or physical play (e.g., throwing a ball).

Be Purposeful in Playful Interactions

It may take some practice to become comfortable with playing as play can be unstructured, repetitive, and even messy! Sometimes, parents or caregivers might select an activity with the intent of teaching their child, such as playing a game in which they match shapes. Other times, parents and caregivers can let their child take the lead! Their child will be learning verbal and social skills as the parent or caregiver follows along – talking with the child but not giving directives. Below are sample play and interaction activities you can try:

  • Get on your child’s level, and engage in floor play (e.g., put together a floor puzzle, stack blocks)
  • Read books together
  • Play simple games (e.g., what sounds do animals make, guess items in a bag by touch)
  • Sing silly songs
  • Facilitate exploration (e.g., find different types of fruit at the grocery store)
  • Play with tactile toys and expressive materials (e.g., water, sand, paint, playdough)
  • Make helping a game (e.g., match colored socks)
  • Find enrichment in your environment (e.g., go to the library, take a nature walk)
  • Be playful in simple daily activities (e.g., sing a song while dressing)
  • Set up a child-friendly cabinet with items (e.g., plastic bowls and spoons), and engage your child in stacking, banging, and shaking the items
  • Play imitation games (e.g., gesture rhymes like Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes)
  • Fill an album with photos of family and friends, and play a game to find specific people
  • Use a mirror to explore facial features and expressions (e.g., Where is your nose?)
  • Be physically active (e.g., playground, swimming pool, indoor obstacle course)
  • Count, sort, or match items (e.g., count the number of toy cars)

Communicate with Care During Play

How parents and caregivers interact during play is as important as the activities they chose to play. During play, your words and actions can communicate to your child that they are loved, valued, and supported, and you can teach them new vocabulary, how to make decisions, and how to socialize with others (e.g., taking turns). With each interaction, you build their skills and self-esteem! Try these strategies:

  • Give loving and nurturing touches during activities (e.g., rub your child’s back)
  • Name objects and their characteristics (e.g., colors, textures, tastes)
  • Use gestures (e.g., point to an item) to help a child connect names with objects
  • Provide explanations for actions (e.g., The doll is hungry, so I am going to feed her with this bottle.)
  • Comment on what a child is doing (e.g., You picked a bright yellow crayon for coloring.)
  • Ask open-ended questions (e.g., Where will you park the car?)
  • Expand on a child’s vocabulary with descriptive words (e.g., building words like “over” and “under”)
  • Offer praise for effort (e.g., You worked so hard to build that tall block tower!)
  • Use constructive language (e.g., please do this vs. don’t do that)
  • Avoid criticism, blame, and shame

When to Stop Playing

Play boosts children’s healthy development and can be part of meeting recommended physical activity requirements. Although infants need about 30 minutes a day of “tummy time” or interactive play and toddlers need about 3 hours total of physical activity each day (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2020), you should monitor your child’s energy and attention levels during play as children can grow tired of interacting or may need time to process and reflect on their learning. The following are some signs that a young child may need some rest from the stimulation of play:

  • Crying or making fussy sounds
  • Rubbing or closing eyes
  • Arching back
  • Turning away
  • Clenching fists and/or waving arms and kicking
  • Throwing tantrums
  • Refusing to continue or fulfill simple requests
  • Struggling to use words to convey feelings

Infants and toddlers grow quickly. Cherish this time of playful fun! Through play, you are helping your child to understand how to interact, that they have an impact on objects and other people, and to be a creative problem solver. While having fun, you are laying a foundation for your child’s future relationships, learning, and success!

References

American Academy of Pediatrics. (2020, August 5). Making physical activity a way of life: AAP policy explained. healthychildren.org. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/fitness/Pages/Making-Fitness-a-Way-of-Life.aspxhttps://www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/fitness/Pages/Making-Fitness-a-Way-of-Life.aspx

Brown, D. P., & Elliott, D. S. (2016). Attachment disturbances in adults: Treatment for comprehensive repair. W.W. Norton.

Ginsberg, K. R., Committee on Communications, & the Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health. (2007). The importance of play in promoting healthy child development and maintaining strong parent-child bonds. Pediatrics119(1), 182-191. https://publications.aap.org/pediatrics/article/119/1/182/70699/The-Importance-of-Play-in-Promoting-Healthy-Child

Milteer, R. M., Ginsburg, K. R., Council on Communications and Media Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health, Mulligan, D. A., Ameenuddin, N., Brown, A., Christakis, D. A., Cross, C., Falik, H. L., Hill, D. L., Hogan, M. J., Levine, A. E., O’Keeffe, G. S., & Swanson, W. S. (2012). The importance of play in promoting healthy child development and maintaining strong parent-child bond: Focus on children in poverty. Pediatrics129(1), e204-e213. https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2011-2953