Category Archives: child care

Preparing Caregivers to Communicate Effectively Using Three Types of Communication Skills Webinar

iStock_000011132527LargeBy Carlee Latham, MFLN–Military Caregiving

Remember to mark your calendars for this Thursday, April 10 at 11:00 am EDT, as the Military Caregiving concentration hosts a professional development webinar on caregiver communication skills.

Preparing Caregivers to Communicate Effectively Using Three Types of Communication Skills will focus on preparing caregivers to have those difficult conversations with a variety of individuals, including military professionals. The presenter, Mary Brintnall-Peterson, Ph.D., will help caregivers and professionals:

  • Distinguish between the communication skills of “I messages”, Assertive, and Aikido and the types of situations they are best used in.
  • Identify caregiver situations where professionals could use one of the communication styles.
  • Prepare to use one of the communication skills.

For more information on Thursday’s webinar visit the eXtension website here. Event materials, like the presentation slides and handouts are available within the eXtension Learn site.

The Military Caregiving concentration has applied for 1.00 continuing education credit hour from the National Association of Social Workers (NASW). Credentialed participants may contact woundedwarrior@ag.tamu.edu for more information.

This post was published on the Military Families Learning Network blog on April 8, 2014.

Why Pre-Deployment is Difficult for Every Member of a Military Family

saying goodbye to son_Navy_croppedThe separation of deployment is a difficult time for military families – there’s no doubt about that! What may be less obvious, especially for those who haven’t seen it up close, is that the months before deployment are also very difficult. Understanding the unique circumstances and stressors of pre-deployment and how they affect young children is the first step toward helping them cope.

Preparing to Leave: Parents’ Experience

The stressors of pre-deployment fall squarely on the shoulders of the parents in the family. Most will experience some if not all of the following challenges.

LOTS to do! During this time, service members and their spouses must attend to many, many financial, legal, and other administrative affairs. In addition, the parents may need to make arrangements to ensure that the family’s needs are met while the service member is deployed, such as relocating to be nearer to extended family.

Distancing of the service member. As the deployment draws near, the service member often spends time away from the family for training and preparation with his or her unit. He or she begins bonding with the other unit members and focusing on the upcoming mission. Though necessary for the service member, the result for the family is psychologically distancing even when he or she is at home.

Making the most of the time together. On the other hand, the spouse may very well be trying to make the most out of the final weeks and days together, both relationally and practically. Spouses create long “honey-do” lists for the service member and plan memorable occasions together as a couple or family before the long separation.

More conflict. With one parent pulling away and the other trying to hold tighter, all while under the pressure of a mile-long “to-do” list, it’s no wonder that big arguments between couples are very common in the final weeks before departure.

Anxiety. Underlying everything for both parents is worry about what will happen once the service member is deployed. The worries that each wrestles with are too numerous to list here but the point to remember is that anxiety about the future creates an underlying level of stress that makes everything else harder.

For single parents preparing for deployment, the circumstances may be somewhat different but they are no less stressful, and perhaps even more so, as the service member must make arrangements for alternative care for their children while they are away.

Children’s Experience

pensive boy_close-upSo how do these adult challenges impact their young children? Though they are not old enough to understand the reasons for changes in their parents, even very young children definitely notice them. The stressors that parents experience as they prepare for deployment inevitably show in their faces, voices and behaviors, even if they aren’t aware of it. But young children are keenly aware that something is different. They notice that a parent is less attentive and more distracted or occupied with other things. They notice that a parent is more irritable and less happy than usual. They notice the faces and voices of their parents when they are talking (or arguing). They notice when their daily routines are disrupted as parents try to manage all the tasks that must be completed. They notice when a parent isn’t as available to play, read or talk to them.

These changes in their parents usually cause feelings of confusion and insecurity in young children, which they express in their behavior and mood. These troubling changes in their children can add yet another layer of stress and anxiety on already burdened parents.

Mother comforting her son

A Safety Net of Care

The good news is that a knowledgeable, attentive, compassionate child care provider can do a lot to ease young children’s anxiety and, in turn, provide parents with the comfort of knowing they have a trusted partner who will help their children cope.

Coming up in a future blog post, we’ll talk about some specific strategies for supporting young children and their parents during the pre-deployment phase. In the meantime, explore our articles and recorded webinars, many of which deal with young military-connected children’s stress and strategies for reducing it.

 

This blog post was written by Kathy Reschke, Child Care Leader at Military Families Learning NetworkSource: http://blogs.extension.org/militaryfamilies/?p=4538

7 Ways to Help Young Military-Connected Children during Stressful Times

worried girl and caregiverSome of the most common experiences in the lives of military families – long separations, reunions, frequent moves – are also some of the most disorienting and upsetting kinds of experiences for young children. It’s not surprising, then, that they often show troubling changes in behavior during big upsets like these. But there are several ways that child care providers can help ease children’s feelings of stress and provide support and comfort as they cope.

  1. Learn about stress and young children. When you are aware of young children’s vulnerability points and understand how stress affects their brains and bodies, you will be more sensitive and effective in meeting their needs.
  2. Anticipate stressful events. Work hard to develop an open, trusting relationship with military parents so that they are more likely to let you know when a potentially stressful situation will be, or already is, occurring. Then you can anticipate their child’s needs and provide extra support.
  3. Notice changes in children’s behavior during vulnerability points. It can be helpful to keep notes about these changes in behavior. You may only use them for your own reference as you intentionally plan ways to support a child, but it may also be helpful to share observations with parents who are concerned with how their child is coping with a difficult situation. Be aware of your tone when sharing observations with parents. Rather than communicating with alarm or judgment, frame your observations in reassurance and hope. Remember that parents are trying to cope with the stressful situation, too. What they need most is an ally, someone they can depend on to help them provide for their child’s well-being. Here is another resource that can help you navigate these sensitive conversations.
  4. Maintain familiarity and predictability in the child care setting. When big changes in the family create confusion and uncertainty for a young child, spending time in a place that is familiar and predictable is incredibly comforting for the child. The child care environment can be a safe place to relax, to feel relief from the body’s and brain’s stress responses, to “regroup” emotionally, and to refuel confidence and good humor. Be attuned to any changes in your child care environment or schedule, minimize them as much as possible for the vulnerable child, and provide extra support when changes are unavoidable.
  5. Incorporate simple activities into the daily schedule to help reduce the body’s physical responses to stress. These changes in a child’s body are the most harmful to their developing brains and general health if they remain unchecked for extended periods of time. This article describes six stress-relieving activities that you can easily integrate into a child’s day.
  6. Give the child plenty of opportunities to make choices, be in control, and feel competent. Child care settings are full of small choice-making opportunities – make the most of them, especially when a child is vulnerable to stress. Each time you give the child the chance to be in control by making a choice, even when it’s something small, it helps to balance the circumstances over which they don’t have control.
  7. Communicate affection, comfort, and most of all hope to vulnerable children. You can’t change the circumstances that are causing stress for the child or family. But you can help children cope and develop a resilient attitude by saying, through words and actions, “This is so hard, I know. But I’m here to help you get through this. You are safe and accepted here, no matter what.”

Coping with the challenges of military family life can be difficult for young children as well as their parents, perhaps more so because they lack their parents’ experience and resources. But they do have YOU, and you can provide the structure, comfort, understanding, and patience that will help them successfully navigate times of stress and develop resilience to cope with changes in the future that are part of growing up in a military family.

Explore other articles, recorded webinars, and other resources related to young military-connected children, stress, and providing supportive care.

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This blog post was written by Kathy Reschke, Child Care Leader at Military Families Learning Network. Original source: http://blogs.extension.org/militaryfamilies/?p=4349

When Young Military-Connected Children are Most Vulnerable

crying Asian preschool boyStudies of military families with young children have shown that, during a parent’s long deployment, preschoolers are more likely to show aggressive or withdrawn behavior. Many experienced providers can also attest to the relationship between significant change at home and more frequent tantrums, defiance, and physical aggression in some children, and withdrawal, clinging and loss of skills, such as toileting or language, for other children.

What’s happening here? The short answer is stress. Their behavior is communicating (sometimes very loudly) that these children are experiencing changes to their small world that they don’t understand, have no control over, and don’t know what to do about. Their bodies and brains are reacting with the hard-wired “fight-or-flight” response.

That’s stress in a nutshell and even very young children experience it.

One of the most important ways that child care professionals can support young children is to understand what kinds of circumstances are most stressful for them. Dr. Karen Peterson, professor and expert in children experiencing stress and trauma, calls these circumstances “vulnerability points” – times when young children’s emerging ability to manage their own emotions is overwhelmed by circumstances.  These are also circumstances that have the greatest potential to negatively impact their developing brains and bodies.

Six Vulnerability Points for Young Children

Research studying children in a variety of traumatic and stressful circumstances has identified the most common vulnerability points, especially for young children. As you read through this list, think how likely these situations are to occur for a child from a military family.

  1. Parental loss/separation: The parent-child relationship is where children first learn to trust that their needs will be met and that the world is a safe, predictable place. It’s not surprising, then, that having a parent leave and not be physically available any more is one of the most disruptive, confusing and upsetting experiences for a very young child.
  2. Significant change in parental behavior: Young children are also stressed when the behavior of a parent changes markedly. Children come to depend on their understanding of how their parent acts and responds toward them. When that behavior changes, the child notices. When the parent doesn’t revert back to the expected behavior but instead repeatedly behaves in an unfamiliar way, the child becomes confused, frightened, and insecure.
  3. Adult criticism or rejection: When a parent’s behavior includes criticism or rejection, it’s also stressful and confusing, especially if it’s unexpected. It’s important, though, to remember that it’s the child’s perception of the adult’s behavior that matters, rather than what the adult intended. A parent may withdraw from a child for very good reasons that have nothing to do with the child. But it’s very likely that the child will interpret the behavior as his fault.
  4. Loss of familiar places, things: When children are suddenly put into a completely new and unfamiliar environment where they don’t know where things are and nothing looks “right,” it can be very unsettling and stressful.
  5. Change in routine, unpredictability: Similarly, young children thrive when they know what’s coming next. When the routine and schedule is changed, it creates a sense of fearful anxiety.
  6. Situations in which they have no control: All of the above situations are made more stressful when a child has no control over what’s happening.

Military Families and Children

Unfortunately, military life for most service members and their families is riddled with these “vulnerability points.” Long or frequent deployments or training away from home, reintegration after returning home, and frequent relocations to a new duty station are an expected part of life in the military service. In addition, some families must cope with the service member’s injury and/or mental health challenges. Financial challenges can create added stress for the adults in the family. All of these circumstances can take a toll on the relationship between parents, which adds another layer stress for every family member.

Mother comforting her sonWhile it’s true that many, if not most, of the adults in military families will find the internal and external resources to cope successfully through these circumstances, it’s also true that their young children will benefit greatly from having additional support during these times when they are most vulnerable. A knowledgeable, skilled and sensitive child care professionals can provide the structure, comfort, understanding and patience that will help them successfully navigate vulnerability points.

To hear Dr. Peterson talk in more depth about young children’s vulnerability to stress and how you can help them cope, listen to the recording of her presentation, “Children Under Stress, Part 1: Interpreting the Language of Behavior.” 

Articles on Stress and Young Military-Connected Children:

Additional Resources:

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This blog post was written by Kathy Reschke, Ph.D., Child Care Leader at Military Families Learning Network.

Source: http://blogs.extension.org/militaryfamilies/?p=4246

5 Risks Facing Young Children in Military Families

A new research brief was recently published by Child Trends, a non-profit research center focused on the well-being of children and youth, summarizing findings from recent research on the risks to young children as a result of changes and challenges inherent in today’s military family life.

The following information from Child Trends’ monthly e-newsletter highlights five reasons that we need to be paying special attention to children under age 6. [Reprinted with permission.]

Child Trends reportFive Risks Facing Young Children in Our Military Families

More than two million children in the U.S. have had a parent deploy to Afghanistan or Iraq. When a parent goes to war – and often for years afterward – families are deeply affected. Young children are especially vulnerable, because they’re physically and emotionally dependent on adults, and because their brain development can be disrupted by high levels of stress. When young children experience high levels of stress and trauma, the effects can continue well after their parents’ military service ends, when their families may have less access to needed supports.

In Home Front Alert: The Risks Facing Young Children in Military Families, Child Trends examined the special circumstances characterizing the lives of children under age six in military families. From that research, we offer five reasons why young children in military families might be at risk:

  1. Deployment is stressful, even for the non-deployed
    Parents who stay behind may experience depression, anxiety, and loss of financial and social support when their spouse or partner deploys. Getting and maintaining child care and health care (particularly mental health care) may be newly challenging. How well young children do under the circumstances of deployment can depend on how successfully the non-deployed parent (or other caregiver) copes with these burdens.
  2. Young children sometimes blame themselves
    Young children have little ability to comprehend the facts surrounding their deployed parent’s absence. They may feel responsible for causing the losses they experience, and develop emotional or behavioral problems. Children’s reactions are greatly influenced by their age: preschoolers may become more “clingy” or otherwise regress in their behavior, and may openly express their fears; toddlers may become more withdrawn or sad, or have more tantrums or sleep problems; babies may become listless or irritable, or stop eating. Among older children with a deployed parent, emotional or behavioral problems, anxiety symptoms, and academic difficulties may occur.
  3. Cumulative stress can put children at risk
    Excessive stress changes brain processes that regulate emotion and behavior, and can have other damaging health effects. The quality of relationships, particularly a young child’s attachment to his or her parents, can either buffer or magnify these negative effects. When stress on the non-deployed parent reaches overload, good parenting can suffer. Children are at greater risk for abuse or neglect when a parent is deployedLonger deployments and multiple tours may be especially hard on families.
  4. The end of deployment can bring new challenges
    It can take time for a returning parent to reintegrate into family life. Young children may need time to get reacquainted with a parent who, in some cases, they don’t remember. When returning military members have suffered significant injuries – physical or psychological – young children can react with fear and anxiety. Parental roles and styles of coping and survival adopted during the period of deployment need to be renegotiated. There is an increased risk for domestic violence under these circumstances. About one in six service members returning from deployment in Afghanistan or Iraq returns home with post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries, and other serious mental disorders. This adds to the risks faced by their children and families.
  5. The composition of the armed forces has changed, and the system is straining to meet its needs
    The composition of America’s armed forces has changed in many ways – more mothers, more single parents, more National Guard and Reserves members. Mothers with minor children now make up about one in six members of the active-duty military. Children in dual-military families (about six percent of the total) can have their home lives completely overturned when the second parent is deployed; temporary caregivers, such as grandparents, may be poorly prepared for these new responsibilities. While the military has a child care system that has been the envy of the civilian world, the system currently strains to meet the need. With increased numbers of parents in the Guard or Reserves (now nearly half of the total force), many families don’t have the supports, formal and informal, that come with living on base. Promising approaches for addressing the needs of today’s military-connected families include home visiting models and better access to mental health services, including cognitive-behavioral therapy for preschoolers affected by trauma. Additionally, school personnel and other service providers would benefit from a deeper understanding of the challenges and strengths associated with military family life.

Contributors: David Murphey
7/2013, Publication #2013-34
Child Trends 5 (monthly e-newsletter) is supported by the The Irving B. Harris Foundation.
©2013 Child Trends. May be reprinted with citation.

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For more information:

Child Trends Special Report video

Research brief (8 pages)

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Posted by Kathy Reschke, Child Care Leader at Military Families Learning Network. http://blogs.extension.org/militaryfamilies/

Source: http://blogs.extension.org/militaryfamilies/2013/07/22/5-risks

Insights from a Military Parent (Part 5): Adjusting to Home Life after Deployment

Insights logoToday we continue our series, “Insights from a Military Parent,” an ongoing discussion in which Rhonda, National Guard spouse and mom of two young boys, responds to questions that arose from her telling of her family’s experience living through two deployments with two young children during our webinar presentation, “Intentional Connection: Establishing Positive Relationships Between Child Care Providers and Military Parents.”

In today’s post, Rhonda describes some of the military behaviors that took a while for her husband to shed after returning to home life, and how those behaviors were perceived by others, including the boys’ teachers. Awareness, communication and patience, Rhonda explains, are the keys to supporting military families (particularly Guard and Reserves) who are experiencing reintegration.

Question: You’ve said that reintegration is a process that can take a while.  What advice would you give a teacher/provider who wants to support that parent as he or she reconnects to the child’s daily life, including school/child care, in ways that are sensitive to his or her adjustment?

The two most critical times for our family were the months during pre-deployment and post-deployment. These are the times when routines are disrupted, finances are being juggled, family roles are evolving and revolving, and dad is acclimating – either to leaving or returning.

Try to connect with both parents before the actual deployment if possible. This will help lay the groundwork for the post-deployment interactions. My husband joked at our pre-deployment teacher/parent meeting that he was just there to model his uniform. Ok, I was the one doing all the talking. However, we did talk about post-deployment issues in that pre-deployment meeting and his presence was important. He and I have discussed his post-deployment return to civilian life and reflected on how much our lives have changed. We anticipate that we will evolve again when he returns this time.

quote_mil to civ

Post-deployment is different for everyone. What we expected from reading the books and literature on post-deployment were insomnia, nightmares, aversion to crowds or large social gatherings, being in a state of high alert, and adjusting to family life. Sometimes we joked about going through a checklist of behaviors or situations that were outlined in the books.

As a Guard family the transition from active duty in the war zone back to home is far more abrupt than for full-time military. He goes from being in a full-time military environment where everyone is in uniform, procedure and protocol are the norm, and everyone is on high alert – into a civilian world where people invade your personal space in the check-out line, honk their horns less than a second after the light changes, and debris on the road is really just debris. Every instinct and reaction, honed through military training and reinforced in the war zone, is still active, but the environment is more benign.

As a family we had to help him bring out his civilian persona. Some adjustments are comical and others are a bit more stressful. For the first few weeks I felt like I was living with a teenage girl because he would stand in front of his closet with his hands on his hips staring at his clothes, then declare he had nothing to wear. After suggesting several different combinations of shirts, pants, shorts, etc. I left the room frustrated. He emerged ten minutes later back in uniform. This went on for several days until we went shopping so he could buy khaki cargo shorts and plain t-shirts in black, gray, and white. It took a few months to help him transition to a more varied wardrobe, but he still wears combat boots most days.

Dressing wasn’t the only thing that went through a period of adjustment. He also switched his field of work. He could no longer work indoors in an office setting. He became a communications and cable installer which kept him physically active and constantly on the move. He had the right mix of human interaction and physical labor to keep him focused and at ease.  This helped considerably with re-establishing a routine and adjusting to the routine of family life.

dad picking up boysFriends, colleagues, and teachers also experienced a period of adjustment with us. The first few times he picked the boys up at school it was a “mission” and they were his “packages.” He was in uniform, moved briskly, didn’t speak, and barely made eye contact. When I picked the boys up a few days later I was updated on all the upcoming activities that were posted on the doors and on flyers that dad didn’t acknowledge. One of the teachers tentatively asked me if he was upset with the school. I was confused until she described his demeanor when he picked up the kids. I smiled and explained that he was doing the same thing at home. I shared with her what I had learned from the books about the process of going from a military to a civilian mindset, and that it would take time. Within a few months he was greeting folks, retrieving flyers, and exchanging pleasantries with other dads.

The teachers and I worked together to make sure important notices weren’t overlooked or forgotten. One morning they called me at work to ask if i knew it was picture day. I dropped my head to my desk as I recalled what the boys were wearing that morning. You know it wasn’t good if they called. I asked how long I had to get them a change of clothes, hung up the phone, and raced to a Target. Luckily, I was only a few miles from the school and store and found suitable clothes for both of them. When dad picked them up that evening our oldest put his hands on his hips and snapped, “You forgot picture day! Mommy had to get us clothes and we do not like them!” Dad bought them ice cream. Guess who the hero is in our house!

One other vestige of deployment that raised alarm with me and the teachers was dad’s tone. For the first few weeks his tone of voice was harsher and louder than prior to deployment. Again, this is the result of being in a war zone and interacting with other adults in tense situations. I would remind dad that we weren’t troops and that he was being really loud, or overly sensitive, to minor infractions. These were conversations best handled by me in private. If you encounter this with a recently returned military parent, take it up carefully with the home-front parent. Odds are it is already a topic under discussion in the home. If it isn’t, there may be an opportunity for helping the home front parent.

quote_patienceFinally, be patient and be observant. Stay in communication with the home-front parent and don’t be surprised if certain events or activities are skipped or only attended for a brief time. Music programs, graduations, and other group events were difficult at first. I sat, he stood, in the back of the room and usually left right after the boys were done with their part. As time went on, he mellowed and actually sat through an entire event. Reintegration is different for everyone and it can take months, sometimes years, to find balance and harmony.

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Rhonda will be sharing more insights and recommendations about the reintegration process during our webinar, “Getting to Know You (Again): Helping Young Children Adjust to the Return of a Military Parent,” on Tuesday, June 18, 2013, 2:00-3:00 EDT. This link will take you to the page where you can log in – no registration is necessary. The webinar will also be recorded and available at the same link approximately 2 days after the live event.

Part 1: The Power of Hearing Their Stories 

Part 2: Understanding Parenting Decisions

Part 3: Why I’m Reluctant to Talk to You

Part 4: Responding to Misbehavior with Compassion

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This blog post was written by Kathy Reschke, Child Care Leader at Military Families Learning Network    Source:  http://blogs.extension.org/militaryfamilies/?p=2938

 

Insights from a Military Parent (Part 4): Responding to Misbehavior with Compassion

Insights logoToday we continue our series, “Insights from a Military Parent,” an ongoing discussion in which Rhonda, military spouse and mom of two young boys, responds to questions that arose from her telling of her family’s experience living through two deployments with two young children during our webinar presentation, “Intentional Connection: Establishing Positive Relationships Between Child Care Providers and Military Parents.”

In today’s post, Rhonda talks about the need for child care professionals to be willing to be compassionate and flexible with rules and expectations during times of transition or extra stress in a military child’s life.

Question: During the webinar, you mentioned a couple of situations in which teachers ended up “bending the rules” to accommodate your child’s temporary needs. What would you like providers to know about flexibility and accommodation?

During our first deployment our oldest child was attending private kindergarten because his birthday fell after the cutoff date for public kindergarten. He was four when his father deployed and seemed to be taking it in stride. However, as the months went by he began to show signs of anxiety and stress. Hindsight is 20/20, so at the time I wasn’t seeing his behaviors for what they were.

One of the initial signs of anxiety and stress was taking things. It is hard for me to use the word stealing, but I suppose that is what it was in a sense. It started with things at home. He would take items from my husband’s nightstand or from the home office and hide them in his room. They were usually small things that reminded him of his dad. A watch, a small model airplane, and a measuring tape were just some of the things I found hidden under his pillow or in the toy box.

toy carsThen he would start putting things in his pockets at stores. Small toys, usually die cast cars. The first time I observed this I asked him to hand me the toy, explained that he had to pay for it, and had him put it in the cart with our other items. Then I began noticing that it was becoming a regular occurrence and he was getting better at secreting the items away. Each time we went to the check-out line I would frisk him to make sure he wasn’t carrying a toy out of the store. If he handed it over willingly then I would let him put it on the checkout stand and pay for it. If he didn’t hand it over, it stayed at the store. I suppose that in the back of my mind I knew this was related to his father being away, but with everything else happening in our lives it didn’t make it to the priority list.

Then something happened that brought this behavior into full focus. I decided to pick the boys up early from school and treat them to an early dinner at Chuck-e-Cheese. Because it was earlier in the afternoon I was there when most parents were picking up their children. As we were getting his backpack and jacket from his locker a little girl marched up to us and demanded that my son return her pony. I turned to look for her mother, who was standing a few feet away and asked for clarification about the missing toy. The little girl said, “It is a pink pony and HE took it.” I explained that he didn’t have it and we didn’t have any toys like that at our house. She was adamant and said, “I know he took it. Everyone knows that HE takes things!”

Motherly instincts kicked in on both sides and the little girl’s mother stepped in and said, “Honey, he doesn’t have it. Let’s look at home again.” At this point I had subconsciously positioned myself between my son and his accuser. As they walked away I sat down at the table with him and asked him what she was talking about. As he hung his head I noticed the dark circles under his eyes and the deeply sad expression on his face. I asked him if he had taken toys from other kids and he just sunk lower into his chair. My heart broke for my little boy. We all know how it feels to be rejected by our peers. I hugged him tight and told him to get his stuff. As we walked out I stopped by the Director’s office and asked if we could speak in the morning. She had witnessed part of the confrontation and nodded yes.

The next morning she informed me that, yes, he had been taking things. He had taken toys from the classroom and had taken cars from a few of the little boys. In our household I am the rule follower. I became that way early on in life because no matter how small the infraction, I always got caught. My peers could be engaged in the same activity, but I was the one who was always called out. Funny how those things stick. So, being the rule follower, I took all the school policies and rules to heart. In the handbook it clearly stated that students were not to have toys or playthings from home. Being the rule follower I made sure that both boys were free of contraband before entering the school. Imagine my surprise to find out that OTHER children had these items on them.

Ok, in all fairness I need to explain that the school also served as an after-school care facility for kids attending the area K-5 school. So, it wasn’t just his classmates that had contraband items, but kids who were in the after school program.  While I was frustrated about the rule breaking, it was my son who was taking things. That had to be the focus of the discussion.  I asked how long this had been happening and was shocked to find out it had been going on for over a month.

During this discussion I was experiencing multiple emotions – frustration that it had not been brought to my attention sooner, compassion for my son who had been labeled a thief by his peers, and shame for not being a better parent. I shared with the Director what had been happening at home and at school. Not being aware of how the stress of deployment can manifest in children, I fell back on my early childhood development knowledge and surmised that this was probably connected to his dad being deployed. I also reflected on what I knew about my son. He, like me, had an overly developed sense of fairness and obedience to the rules. I knew he felt bad about what he was doing; it was obvious from our conversations in the stores. He didn’t want to disappoint anyone, especially authority figures.

As we talked about him and the situation, we came to the conclusion that maybe he needed something to make him feel special while he was at school. The Director agreed to let him bring one toy to school each day. He was to keep it in his backpack during school, but could take it out when the after-school program started in the afternoon. We brought him into the office that afternoon to explain the new rules to him. There was an immediate change in his demeanor. He lifted his head and his eyes widened with what I felt was hope.

son with carThat night he spent hours trying to decide which toy he would take to school. The next morning he was still trying to decide between two of his favorite die cast cars. He finally picked the one he thought was the coolest and put it in his backpack. When we got to his locker I reminded him about the rules and he smiled and nodded his head. That evening he announced that everyone liked his car and thought it was really cool.

As the weeks went by there were no more incidents with stealing. His “security blanket” was all he needed to get through the day. The Director and I touched base weekly regarding his interactions with the other kids and things seemed to be improving. He was still quiet and withdrawn, but I was happy that he was no longer labeled by his peers and had a few regular friends.

Establishing rules is important to creating a safe, equitable, and productive academic environment. As an educator and a parent I support school rules and enforce them at home. However, I also acknowledge that sometimes rules can be bent to allow a student room to grow or improve in certain situations. We were lucky to work with a Director who was willing to make compromises that would be better for the emotional well being of my son. She appreciated how rigorously I was trying to enforce the rules, but she was the one to suggest letting him bring a toy of his own, since the after-school care kids were bringing in things of their own.

Now, you might be saying to yourself, why not just enforce the rule for all the kids? I agree that is the bigger picture in all of this, but what about the small picture? What happens when you punish the entire group because one person is having problems? What is that one person’s story? What would have happened if the approach had been to do bag checks every single day to make sure no toys were coming into the building? Don’t you think other parents would have learned the reason behind it? Might they have talked about it in front of their kids? What would those kids have said to my son? How would he have been treated?

As a rule follower, I had a few moments of apprehension. Would we be teaching my son that it is OK to break the rules if you play the pity card? Will he expect people to make accommodations for him in the future? Yes, I did, and do, worry about these things. However, the Director had the objectivity and experience to know that, in this case, the right thing to do was to bend the rules. And it worked.

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Next week’s question: Given what you said about reintegration being a process that can take a while, what advice would you give a teacher/provider who wants to keep that parent involved in ways that are sensitive to his or her adjustment?

Part 1: The Power of Hearing Their Stories 

Part 2: Understanding Parenting Decisions

Part 3: Why I’m Reluctant to Talk to You

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This blog post was written by Kathy Reschke, Child Care Leader at Military Families Learning Network
Source: http://blogs.extension.org/militaryfamilies/?p=2914

Insights from a Military Parent (Part 3): Why I’m Reluctant to Talk to You

Insights logoToday we continue our series, “Insights from a Military Parent,” an ongoing discussion in which Rhonda, military spouse and mom of two young boys, responds to questions that arose from her telling of her family’s experience living through two deployments with two young children during our webinar presentation, “Intentional Connection: Establishing Positive Relationships Between Child Care Providers and Military Parents.”

In today’s post, Rhonda talks to child care professionals about reasons that parents (including herself) sometimes feel uncomfortable or reluctant sharing information or discussing a concern with their child’s teacher/caregiver.

Question: Why do you think some military parents feel uncomfortable talking to child care professionals?

I think this differs from family to family.  I think the first day of child care/school is scarier for me than for my kids. They hop out of the car with confidence and excitement. I walk through the door clueless about the sign-in book, finding the box to deposit checks, and where lunch boxes belong. It was intimidating watching all the experienced parents breezing in and out, chatting about a local event, and then whisking off to the rest of their fabulous day. What was on my mind was making sure my kids had a hug and a kiss before I left and then getting out without anyone crying. No worries there, my kids LOVED their time at school; I was the one sobbing in the parking lot.

strong-womenWhen it came time for our first deployment I felt pressured to be the strong wife and mother. We had pep talks from the Unit leaders, literature from the workshops, and of course all the sayings, quotes, and memorabilia about military wives being strong, independent, etc. My goal was to not be a burden on anyone. It is important for me to say that the “pressure to be perfect” was coming from me, not from anyone else. I believe it is something that I carried with me from my first marriage many years ago to a full-time Army man. We lived on a large base, had a close-knit Unit, and “kept it in the family.” Those early experiences had a major influence over the rest of my life. However, this new situation as a Guard wife didn’t fit with that old framework. I was far from a base, didn’t know any of the other families in the Unit, and had no close family or friends nearby. Asking for help is not something I am comfortable doing, and I felt like I should be able to live up to the “image” of the military wife in my mind. What I didn’t anticipate was just how hard it would be to go from a two parent household to a single parent household with no real support system in place.

Talking to others about problems with discipline, potty training, behavioral problems, etc. requires a certain level of trust. I had grown accustomed to sounding these things out with my husband before going to the professionals. Now he was gone and none of my relatives could even remember potty training me or anyone else for that matter. The typical response was, “It seems like he/she just took to it. We really didn’t have any problems. Have you tried putting Cheerio’s in the toilet?” Aside from the fear of causing the septic system to become clogged with breakfast foods, I wasn’t quite sold on the whole cereal as a target theory. It turns out that parents forget struggling through some of those developmental issues, repressing traumatic events is a safety mechanism that helps us perpetuate our species.

However, no matter how hard we try to hide our weaknesses, there are those eagle-eyed angels of mercy who just seem to know when we need help. The boys’ teachers knew I was struggling and were patient with me.

two cupsThe assistant director of the school pulled me aside one evening and offered me a cup of coffee. The boys were sitting in one of the classrooms watching a movie and we sat at one of the tiny lunch tables in the common area. She asked me how I was doing and I burst into tears. Why? Select a reason – stress, fear, exhaustion – but most likely because she reached out to me. Kindness is the most simple and generous of gifts. Here I was grading myself with a big, red “F” in motherhood, working woman, and strong military wife. In reality, I didn’t even know my real assignment. Through her support I realized I had to rely on others to get through the deployment with some of my sanity intact. We discussed the potty training and the sass-mouthing and the bedtime problems over the next few months. She became my back-up when the boys were not being gentlemen. She had the ability to be stern and not fall victim to their wily tactics. When I delivered punishments they responded by crying for their daddy. This made me feel tremendously guilty and I became a shameful puddle of permissive clay they molded to their benefit. How embarrassing is it to say you have no control over a toddler and a pre-schooler? I had to relearn discipline techniques and, most important,  have someone in my corner telling me it was “ok” to set limits even though they missed their daddy.

For some of us, reaching out to our child’s educator may not seem obvious when a deployment comes up. There are so many other things we have to get done. We told ourselves that the kids were too young to know what was really going on and we just told them that “daddy’s work is taking him far away for a long time.” We read the children’s books about deployment and involved them in helping him pack his gear, but we had no idea how much his absence, and my stress, would affect them.

Now that we have two deployments under our family belt, I feel it was our lack of understanding how our boys would handle the stress that kept us from reaching out the first time. Had I read the research reports earlier, had I admitted to myself that my kids WOULD have some idea of what was going on, I would have included them in the pre-deployment planning.  I would have made them MY number one priority.

This time they were my primary concern, and with their well-being secured, everything else seemed to fall into place. We reached out earlier, developed a relationship of trust with their educators, and made allowances for failure. If we have to go through this again, I am sure we will change more things, but for now we are doing ok. No, we are better than ok…I think we made a solid B+ on this deployment. There is always room for improvement!

Next week’s question: You mentioned a couple of situations in which teachers ended up “bending the rules” to accommodate your child’s temporary needs. What would you like providers to know about flexibility and accommodation?

Part 1: The Power of Hearing Their Stories 

Part 2: Understanding Parenting Decisions

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This blog post was written by Kathy Reschke, Child Care Leader at Military Families Learning Network. Source: http://blogs.extension.org/militaryfamilies/?p=2895

Insights from a Military Parent (Part 2): Understanding Parenting Decisions

Insights logoToday we continue our series, “Insights from a Military Parent,” an ongoing discussion in which Rhonda, military spouse and mom of two young boys, responds to questions that arose from her telling of her family’s experience living through two deployments with two young children during our webinar presentation, “Intentional Connection: Establishing Positive Relationships Between Child Care Providers and Military Parents.”

In today’s post, Rhonda talks to child care professionals about a critical aspect of building and maintaining a positive relationship with parents: understanding the parenting choices that they make, especially in times of stress and disruption.

Question: In talking about your family’s experiences, you’ve mentioned that at times you made parenting decisions during the stressful times that were more lenient, accommodating, etc., than usual. As a teacher, I might see that parenting choice and be critical of it, especially if I am unaware of all that you are dealing with. What message would you like to communicate to providers about the parenting choices they observe?

Rhonda: During the various phases of deployment the stress levels fluctuate greatly from feeling like you have it under control to feeling wildly out of control and at your wit’s end. At times I have made choices to alleviate stress on myself or on my children. As a parent, there were times when I took personal leave from work to simply have a day to myself. Sometimes, I used personal leave and kept the boys at home for their emotional and mental health as well. This is a choice that might seem controversial if one of the goals is to provide children with a routine and stability. It might help to understand that sometimes I made that choice following a particularly bad night for the boys, when nightmares or insomnia kept them from feeling rested. Other times I made that choice following three or four days of increasing conflict between us. While it might appear that I am rewarding their bad behavior, in reality I recognized, after many months of banging my head against the wall, that they were experiencing separation anxiety and fear. Having a day, other than a weekend which was usually dedicated to household chores, to simply play or go to the park with me usually put us all in a better mood. Yes, it was a break in the routine, but afterwards they usually behaved better in school and at home.

cerealWorking full time, raising two boys, and dealing with everything else in the household takes a toll after a while. Mornings can be especially rough trying to get everyone dressed and out the door to beat the traffic and get to work on time. Some mornings it just wasn’t worth battling over clothes, shoes, or how many toys could ride in the car on the way to school. This included breakfast options as well. There were mornings when the boys would enjoy left over pizza or bags of dry cereal because I forgot to get milk the day before. Thankfully, there was usually a good breakfast waiting for them at school. These aren’t parenting choices we would make if my husband were home. I made these choices to keep myself from losing patience and getting upset over small things that really don’t matter.

Issues with homework may be the most upsetting for educators to hear about. I can almost hear the collective “hmmmm” as you prepare to read this next bit. When my husband first deployed at the start of the school year there were nights when my oldest and I went round and round on the homework. He would cry to the point of hysteria and I just didn’t have the heart to push him. You see, his dad usually did homework with him, while I worked with his younger brother. I wrote a note to his teacher to let her know what we were experiencing. Because he is in special ed and was at that tipping point of either loving or hating school we didn’t push it hard. She helped him catch up at school, gave him a list of homework to be accomplished and then put him in charge of telling me what needed to be done. Once he realized he had ownership of his homework, he allowed me to help him. The crying stopped within the first two weeks. Every now and then we don’t get the homework done in the evening and both boys understand they have to wake up early to finish it. If dad were home, there would be no option but to complete the homework before bedtime or playtime. As the sole peacemaker, disciplinary, comforter, task master, maid, cook, medic, etc. I don’t always feel like battling it out. Surprisingly, it only takes waking up at 5:00 AM to do homework to realize it is better to do it the night before and sleep-in.

the boysOne other thing to note during the pre- and post-deployment phases is that sometimes we take three or four day weekends to do things as a family. During the second deployment I took the boys out of school for a week so I could travel to a job interview in another state to be closer to family. We always felt supported by the school in these matters because we communicated in advance and tried to make sure all class work and homework was completed – most of the time we were able to get it done, sometimes we didn’t. I am not advocating taking children out of school on a whim; I am simply sharing our specific circumstances that called for a more flexible way of life.

Remember, all home front parents have unique circumstances. The age of the children, their emotional and academic needs, stress, family support, community support, access to resources, financial issues, etc. can all effect our parenting decisions. We are doing the best we can, and we want to do what is best for our children. Clear and supportive communication, knowledge of child development, and compassion are the characteristics and skills of child care providers and educators that make them ideal partners for home front parents during deployment.

Next week’s question: Why do you think some military parents may be uncomfortable talking to child care professionals?

Part 1: The Power of Hearing Their Stories  

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This blog post was written by Kathy Reschke, Child Care Leader at Military Families Learning Network. Source: http://blogs.extension.org/militaryfamilies/?p=2852

Insights from a Military Parent (Part 1): The Power of Hearing Their Stories

Perhaps the single most valuable way for a child care professional to develop a truly effective partnership with a family is to learn what life looks like from their perspective. This is especially true when working with military families, particularly if a child care professional has little or no experience with military life. When we invite military parents to tell us their stories and share their perspectives, they can open our eyes to the impact of military culture and service on the day-to-day experiences of their family. It’s a viewpoint that can radically improve our understanding of the child and of the family as a whole, giving us insight on how best to work with them to provide wise and sensitive care and support for their child.

Rhonda
Rhonda and her two boys

I have become convinced of this truth through getting to know Rhonda Spearman, a military wife and mom whose Air Force Reserve family has navigated two deployments with two young children. Rhonda graciously shared her family’s experiences during our web conference, “Intentional Connections: Establishing Positive Relationships between Child Care Providers and Military Families.”

From Rhonda, we all learned about the different ways her two boys showed, via their behavior, that their dad’s deployment preparation, separation and return (and mom’s stress) were deeply affecting them emotionally. We also heard Rhonda’s suggestions, born of experience, for child care providers, teachers and administrators who want to support child, homefront parent, and service member through it all.

But, as you might imagine, our one webinar only provided enough insight from Rhonda to whet our appetites and make us want more! Happily, she has agreed to continue sharing what she has learned (and continues to learn) about military family life, young children, and supportive partnerships with educators through a series of blog posts. Each Tuesday, we will be posting a question from a child care professional’s perspective that is related to understanding and supporting military families, followed by Rhonda’s response.

If you haven’t listened to the webinar yet, I strongly encourage you to do so. It’s available here (along with downloadable powerpoint slides and other resources). You will get to know Rhonda and her family and hear the many lessons they are learning about living the military life with two young children. You’ll also gain valuable ideas for supporting the military families that you work with.  And you’ll want to hear more from Rhonda in the coming weeks!

Next Tuesday’s Q&A: Why might some military parents be uncomfortable talking to child care professionals? 

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For more online resources and places to connect with others around the topic of child care for military families, check out our “About Us” page.

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This blog post was written by Kathy Reschke, Child Care Leader at Military Families Learning Network.

Source: http://blogs.extension.org/militaryfamilies/?p=2785