Support & Solutions for Children of Military Personnel
Learn about the challenges faced by military families, discover unique and useful solutions, and take away valuable resources for helping military children cope and thrive through transitions.
The challenges of military life seem obvious. From sudden deployment to moving bases, there’s a lot to get used to. This can be even more true for the children of military personnel, espeically when it comes to school. Be it a third-grader or a kid preparing to graduate high school and head for college, the unique challenges of the military lifestyle can have a huge impact on how well a child does in school. Between switching schools districts, adjusting to new classrooms, and striving to meet changing graduation requirements, it can be a lot to handle. Luckily, there are programs, organizations, and resources designed precisely to help military kids do their best while their parents are off protecting the country. To learn what parents, children, and teachers can do to make school success possible and to find out which programs are helping kids meet their goals, continue reading.
School Transitioning & New Teachers
Curriculum can vary not only within a grade but also from one school district to the next. Teachers at all grade levels have their own teaching styles and often adjust their daily lessons to fit their particular class of students. Once at a new school, your child may find he is way ahead of their new class or, perhaps, somewhat behind. Schools and teachers also may have their own rules and regulations when it comes to things like dress codes, attendance, and homework. Fortunately, there is lots of help out there for military families whose kids must constantly transition to new teachers and new school rules. Here are some resources that can help:
Solution #1: Operation Hero
Although school transitions can be tough, enrolling your elementary or middle school child in Operation Hero, a 10-week after-school program, can help ease the process. Created by the Armed Services YMCA, the program focuses on topics ranging from self-esteem and respect to responsibility and bullying prevention. Each week, trained facilitators use interactive methods such as journaling, art, and other independent and group actives to empathize the week’s themes. Parents interested in enrolling their kids can find the program at many ASYMCA locations.
Solution #2: School Liaison Officer
Every installation has a school liaison officer (SLO) who serves as the go-between for you, your children, and the school. According to, the Department of Defense Education Activity, SLOs can identify barriers to your child’s academic success and help you find solutions to them. They can even introduce you to other military families in your new area who can give you the inside scoop on the school’s teachers and other important things.
Different school districts – even in the same state – can have different curriculums. Each district may have its own requirements for every grade from elementary through high school. Not only can curriculums vary from district to district, but the teachers in that district can approach things differently as well. Furthermore, the texts and other instructional materials that schools use to teach that curriculum can vary from school to school. The different curriculums, teaching styles, and instructional materials (lectures, textbooks, multimedia, etc.) can make it challenging for military kids frequently going from one district to another. Here are some solutions for a changing curriculum.
Solution #1: MilKids Education
Started by Meg Flanagan, M.Ed, a deployed mom, teacher, and homeschool coach, MilKids Education Consulting is a place parents can turn to for help when they are concerned their kids aren’t getting what they need from their school or teachers. Flanagan provides consultations to help parents know not only what to say but exactly how to say it when seeking services for their children such as enrollment in special education or gifted programs. She also offers tips and advice on how to get kids to do their homework and how to be successful homeschool parents.
Solution #2: Virtual Help/Tutors
Thanks to the U.S. Department of Defense and Coast Guard Mutual Assistance, children of military families are eligible for free online tutoring and homework help 24/7 and all you need is an internet connection. Besides the obvious benefit of convenience, using a virtual tutor can have many other benefits. With a virtual tutor, students can have the same tutor as they move from school to school. A tutor can get to know your child’s learning style and can help them adjust to the changing curriculums. They can also suggest additional resources your child may find helpful during school transitions.
Meeting Graduation Requirements & College Readiness
Having to move schools at any grade can be challenging, but it can be particularly difficult for high school seniors who may be wondering about college. Because academic standards and requirements vary from state to state, your military high school senior may find that their newest school requires more credits to graduate than their last. Or maybe the standardized tests you took at your old school aren’t recognized by your new school in a different state. Although this challenge can be daunting, here are some solutions to help you through it.
Solution #1: The Military Interstate Compact
There are provisions in the Military Interstate Compact, an agreement recognized by all 50 states and the District of Columbia, that can be especially helpful to high school seniors. Say your new school has course requirements for graduation and they’re similar to courses you’ve already completed at your previous school. The Compact says your new school should recognize these courses and count them as credit. The Compact also requires your new school to be flexible when it comes to accepting your scores on national achievement tests or alternative tests meaning the tests you’ve taken elsewhere can be used in place of its own testing requirements. Another provision allows you to receive your diploma from your sending school if you don’t have time to meet your new school’s graduation requirements.
Solution #2: Military Child Education Coalition
The Military Child Education Coalition has a program specifically for high schoolers, Student 2 Student® (S2S™). Among its goals are to help high schoolers ease the transition and achieve educational success. The program helps to inform students of the unique aspects of their new school and provide them with the resources they need to overcome any barriers to their fitting in. For example, new students likely will be assigned “a friend” from their class who can show them around and eat lunch with them. Your new “friend’s” insight into the campus and culture can be invaluable to your success – academically and socially. Those who are familiar with the curriculum may suggest what courses you should take if you’re college-bound.
Missing Extracurricular Activities
Extracurricular activities provide students with an opportunity to make friends with those who share their interests and talents. They can foster a sense of fitting in and can help promote self-esteem and confidence. But students from military families often find they are shut out from spots on school teams or clubs because they all have well-established position players by the time they arrive, and try-outs are over. Athletic and interscholastic associations also may have rules that govern who can join what when. Because joining and participating in sports and other activities is so valuable, here’s what you can do to help your military family child.
Solution #1: Club Sports
If you think outside of the box, you may be able to find a sports or other club that your child can participate in that is not tied to a school. Because these clubs are often open year-round, students don’t have to worry about arriving too late in the year to find a slot. Organizations like the 4-H Club offer such spots clubs to military installations throughout the world and the National Alliance of Youth Sports (NAYS) offers high quality youth sports programs to families living on and off bases for all the branches of the U.S. military.
Solution #2: The Military Interstate Compact
The Military Interstate Compact includes a rule that should facilitate your child’s participation in his new school’s clubs and sports teams. The Compact states that state and local level educational agencies should provide military-connected children equal opportunities to join clubs and sports teams regardless of any of the district’s deadlines. The school’s coaches and fine arts directors may not be familiar with the Compact, so you may need to kindly remind them of its application to extracurricular activities.
Social Stability & Mental Health
When mom, dad, or both are in the military, kids have a lot more to cope with than their average classmate. They may be flooded with thoughts of their parent getting injured or worry that they’ll never see them again. These thoughts paired with moving a lot and constantly starting at new schools can make it harder to keep friends and find a secure spot among their peers. With all these different anxieties, kids can succumb to depression and other mental health issues more easily than others their age. Luckily, there are several strategies to help kids cope and stay mentally healthy.
Solution #1: In-person or Online Therapy
Therapists are trained to help children talk through the stresses that they feel and can equip them with the tools to better navigate the military lifestyle. You can connect face-to-face with therapists free of charge through Military OneSource and the Military Family and Life Counseling program. However, in-person counseling means switching therapists every time you move to a new base or other location. CreativeHealing is one site that offers online therapy to teens meaning your therapist can come with you if you end up moving.
Military Kids Connect is an online community especially for kids ages 6-17 whose parents are in the military and who may need some extra support. The community has lots of good information and activities for kids so they can learn ways to manage stress and talk about tough topics like depression. The site also has a link to health and wellness coaches for teens and a message board where military kids can connect with one another.
What Teachers & Administrators Can Do
Besides the things parents and kids can do to smoothly navigate the military lifestyle, there are others who can help make the journey a positive one. Teachers and administrators can play a key part in helping students adjust and thrive if they follow a few simple steps and try their best. Here are some ways to teachers and other school staff can do their part.
Keep open communication
According to Military OneSource, “kids tend to perform better when their parents are involved in their education.” Parents may be shy about asking for your help. You can approach them first and provide a concrete list of things they can do to support their child in your classroom. Tell parents how they can find out about assignments and deadlines. Tell parents the best way to reach you – do you prefer telephone, email, or text? Does your school have a website where parents can track their students’ progress? Make sure they are aware of it and how to use it.
Consider shadow programs
There are shadow programs for both high school (S2S) and elementary students (eStudent to Student) where the new military student is paired with a fellow student who can show them the ropes. The mentor-student can introduce the newbie to others who share their interests and provide instant friends for lunch and other activities. These shadow programs can be a great resource for new military family students, and you might want to recommend them. If your school doesn’t have these shadow programs, you can learn how to start one on their websites.
You may believe a student who is showing signs of stress could benefit from services available from your school’s support staff. These could include the school nurse, school psychologist, school social worker, and perhaps even a crisis intervention team member. You can recommend to parents that their child may benefit from their help. Emphasize that just because you’re recommending counseling, you are not suggesting the student has a mental illness. Tell parents that accepting such help shows strength, and that these professionals can help their child find ways to constructively deal with their anxieties and concerns.
You can’t expect every student to adjust to their new school/circumstances overnight or even in the first few weeks. The key is for everyone in the classroom and at home to stay positive and patient. The student is more likely to come around to your teaching methods and preferences if you give them some time and space. Also, when you talk, focus on what they are doing right rather than what they’re doing wrong. Students will feel more comfortable more quickly if they’re praised rather than chided.
Be in the know
Know who the military students in your classroom are and where their parents are deployed. So, if, when talking about current events and U.S troop deployments, you can make sure comments aren’t insensitive to someone whose parent is stationed there. It also helps if you familiarize yourself with your school’s policies and programs that address the challenges of highly mobile students. That way you can make recommendations to students who are having trouble navigating the unfamiliar requirements. Finally, know the signs of stress and reach out to the family if you see a problem brewifing.
Here are additional resources that may be of value to students of military personnel or parents with children adjusting to military-related transitions:
- GradeSpeed Department of Defense schools use this site to keep families up to date on grades and attendance. Civilian schools may have similar services.
- Real Warriors A website for military families that tackles many of the issues they face. One topic is transitions. Entries under this topic include helping children when a tragedy occurs and boosting family readiness for deployment.
- Military OneSource Funded by the Department of Defense, MilitaryOneSource has lots of information and tips for families on all aspects of parenting and understanding the needs of children and teens.
- The Military Family Advisory Network This network connects military families to resources, people and information they can use to successfully navigate all phases of military life including their children’s education. For example, here’s a piece on how teachers can help ease the transition for military children when they’re the new kid again.
- The National Military Family Association The NFMA has information and resources on “military child education.” Three topics it delves into are: The Interstate Compact, In-state Tuition, and Post 9/11 GI Bill.
- The Military Wife and Mom This blog lists 9 free resources and programs for military kids. One is Sesame Street which has episodes just for military kids. Another column offers advice for teachers working with military kids. The Military Wife and Mom also has a Facebook page.
- BlueStarBooks Get your students excited about reading with BlueStarBooks. Since it started in 2009, Blue Star Families has given away hundreds of thousands of books to more than 500,000 kids whose parents are in the military. Disney is a sponsor.
- Operation Homefront Back to School Brigade This is a program that helps military families in need. Local chapters provide school supplies including backpacks, notebooks, notebook paper, pens, pencils, colored pencils, crayons, markers, calculators, glue, rulers, etc. Search online for your local chapter and when it’s holding its yearly event.
- SchoolQuest SchoolQuest helps military families manage moves. It’s an interactive tool that allows you to keep all your child’s files in one place, and helps you track deadlines, so you don’t miss them.
- Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) MOAA has articles on its website that you can find helpful. For example: Moving with Kids Made Easier.