Supporting military children in school
As a result of frequent relocations and long periods of family separation, the children of military personnel need empathetic support in school, writes Louise Fetigan.
Some of the most mobile children in the world are those with parents or family members serving in the Armed Forces. Military families are known for moving home frequently and most will have experienced at least one overseas posting by the end of their careers.
While many military children thrive on the excitement and adventure of travelling the world, others can find the constant change unsettling. For these children, it is essential that schools understand their experience and are able to recognise when additional support is needed.
Of course other internationally mobile children share similar experiences to those in the forces community – moving home frequently, saying goodbye to old friends, finding it tough to settle into a new school or being separated from a parent for long periods of time. However, for military children it is the constant cycle of change and disruption that adds pressure and requires a deeper understanding.
A child’s serving parent may normally live at home but suddenly be sent away, sometimes for a few weeks, at other times for six months or more. Meanwhile, the new service child in your school may well have attended several schools in quick succession over a period of just a few years.
One problem is that support for military children in school tends to be inconsistent and hugely varied. Schools near military bases typically have dedicated pastoral support and specific strategies in place, but in schools where there are very few (if any) military children there is often no support at all.
These children can be left feeling isolated because their peers don’t relate to their experiences and military life is never discussed. Sometimes parents choose not to declare that they are a service family, so a parent deployment might go unnoticed by the child’s teacher who can’t make the connection between family circumstances, and changes to the child’s grades or behaviour.
Support for families and schools
One of the reasons I founded Little Troopers, a UK charity supporting military children, is because I believe that children with parents serving in the military shouldn’t feel disadvantaged by their parent’s choice of career, and also to recognise that schools where children from a military family attend also need support. Schools are ideally placed to help children navigate the highs and lows of military life and when offered with understanding, support for military children in education isn’t just about pastoral support but should also help empower them.
Meeting the need
The children of military personnel are in many ways ‘third culture kids’, often with very specific needs. What’s important to recognise is that there is no one-size-fits all approach that works for everyone. The same circumstances will impact all children in different ways at different times.
One child with a parent deployed overseas might take it in their stride, whilst another might become anxious or withdrawn, or show changes in their grades or behaviour. Equally, some service children find regularly changing schools causes them to fall behind academically, whereas others struggle more with their sense of identity and forming friendships.
Resources and training
Supporting service children needn’t be expensive, but what is needed is a commitment of time. Time for teachers to really understand the issues, to listen to these children, empathise with their experiences and present them with useful ways to explore some of these topics while offering them positive tools to face challenge and change, both now and in the future. This is where Little Troopers can help – sharing our experience and providing resource packs and training templates to help schools give children of different ages the kind of support that they may need.
Key advice: three tips
Whatever strategy a school puts in place, it’s worth remembering that the biggest constant in military life is change. Whether it’s a parent going away, a house move or overseas posting, change is always on the cards for military families. Schools needs to be flexible so that military children can access differing levels of support as and when they might need it. In our latest poll of military families, 96% said they would like to see schools take an active approach to support their children. So what are some of the things that can be done? Here are three central ideas:
1. Talk about military life in class
Serving in the military isn’t just about going to war but other aspects of service life are very rarely talked about, and it may help to find out more. For military children, their parent’s career is a huge part of their home life so it should be represented in school, whether that’s through literature in the school library, clothes in the early-years dressing up box or representation at a school careers fair.
2. Use targeted resources
Using targeted resources designed for military children is best practice. It gives these children an opportunity to share their unique experiences with others and explores specific circumstances such as deployment, living overseas and moving home frequently.
3. Keep the conversation going with families
Remember that military life is always changing. Build a relationship of trust with your service families and regularly check in with them so they have the opportunity to tell you if there have been any changes at home. Sometimes, simply taking the time to listen and care is all the support a child needs.
Louise Fetigan is the Founder of Little Troopers, a military children’s charity based in the UK. The charity has a range of resources for use in primary and secondary school including a Military Child Wellbeing Course template and a newly launched online Resource Hub featuring free downloadable resources for use with children aged 11-16.
Find out more at: www.littletroopers.net/littletroopersatschool
Images kindly provided by Louise