Raising secure military children

One way to explain how children interact with others, especially with their parents, is known as “attachment style.” There are 2 main categories of attachment style: secure and insecure. Children with a secure attachment style are incredibly resilient and function better emotionally and behaviorally than children with insecure attachment styles.

Children with a secure attachment style have high self-esteem and are confident in their ability to help themselves. They feel safe in their relationships, have strong emotional connections with others, are cooperative, and trust others. Ultimately, children with a secure attachment style believe they are worthy of love and that others are dependable. Read on for tips about how to raise secure military children.

Focus on sensitive parenting

The best way to protect your child’s resilience to difficulties, such as deployment of a parent, is to show sensitive parenting. Sensitive parenting is your ability to accurately identify your child’s signals and then promptly respond to those signals. An example of sensitive parenting is noticing your child’s different cries (for example, a cry for hunger) and then quickly responding to that unique cry with an appropriate action (such as feeding the child).

Be consistent in how you respond to your child

When you are consistent in your sensitive and emotional responses to your child, they will likely develop a secure attachment style. However, if you are inconsistent or not available to respond sensitively and emotionally to your child (perhaps because you are focusing on your own needs, or you’re uncomfortable with close relationships), it is possible your child will develop an insecure attachment style.

Display effective coping skills to your child

As the child’s at-home caregiver—whether you are a civilian parent parenting alone, a grandparent, or a trusted friend—it is important for you to show the child how to cope effectively. You can lessen a child’s negative responses to separation from their Service Member parent if they have a bond with an at-home caregiver who displays effective coping skills. You can also help the child develop their own effective coping skills.

Understand the emotions your child displays at the beginning of a separation

As the separation approaches, a child is likely to experience greater anxiety because their parent’s departure means an important loss. At the start of the separation, a child might experience a sense of abandonment, sleep problems, or emotional or behavior problems such as anger or disobedience. But these emotions are typical and temporary, and as the at-home caregiver, you can reduce them if the child is securely attached to you.

Recognize your child’s age-related emotions

Younger children might show fear and regress in their development, such as crying or wetting the bed. School-age children and adolescents might begin to struggle academically or display emotional or behavioral problems such as aggression or withdrawal. Once again, these emotions are typical and temporary. You can lessen them if the child is securely attached to you, using age-appropriate responses. For a younger child, you can help them by offering more attention and hugs. With older children, try talking about feelings.

Focus on your child’s resilience

Secure military children are extraordinarily resilient throughout the deployment cycle. One way you can help your child be resilient in times of stress or separation is to have a family belief system that helps children make sense of the separation. Examples of family belief systems are hope for the future, spiritual fitness, and patriotism. A second way to help your child be resilient in times of stress or separation is to increase the quantity and quality of family communication. Helpful communication strategies include honesty, empathy, humor, and problem-solving, to name a few. For more tips, see HPRC’s 30 ways to raise a resilient military kid.

Maintain family routines

It’s also important to maintain consistency in family routines to help your child feel secure in their relationship with you. Even though your Service Member won’t be part of the routines in person for a time, you should maintain family routines such as family dinners, game nights, or other family activities as much as possible.

If maintaining family routines without the Service Member is too difficult, you can create new routines to replace old ones. Perhaps the absent Service Member could record readings of your child’s favorite books so they can hear the stories before bed. As the caregiver, you could complete puzzles with the child, go for nature walks, or teach your child how to make their absent parent’s favorite meal. Upon your Service Member’s return from deployment, focus on integrating the Service Member back into the old (and perhaps even the new) family routines.

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Pincus, S. H., House, R., Christenson, J., & Adler, L. E. (2001). The emotional cycle of deployment: A military family perspective. U.S. Army Medical Department Journal, 2001(Apr/June), 15–23.  Retrieved 9 August 2022 from https://stimson.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p15290coll3/id/898

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Riggs & Riggs, Risk and resilience in military families experiencing deployment: the role of the family attachment network, 2011, 10.1037/a0025286