Learning to adapt to our environment enables us to function and go about our regular routines and activities. However, for young children these adaptive behaviors can negatively impact their overall development, thereby having both positive and negative consequences. For example, children living in noisy environments can learn to ignore the constant noise around them, a potentially positive thing. However, some children may not be able to discriminate what environmental noise and sounds they should and should not ignore. In an effort to tune out noise, children also may disregard important auditory input like conversation initiations and responses by others.
Researchers have noted that children who are constantly exposed to these conditions are less likely to pay attention, less motivated to perform tasks, can become socially withdrawn, and have less interactions with peers and adult caregivers — all these are necessary skills for academic and school success.
Fortunately, as parents, teachers, or military family service providers, we have the capacity to create and promote supportive environments to alleviate the chronic and toxic environmental conditions to which some children may be exposed. One of the ways adult caregivers can support children living in these situations is to engage with them through literacy activities. My colleagues, Dr. Angel Fettig and Dr. LaShorage Shaffer and I wrote in our 2012 article, Helping Families Connect Early Literacy with Social-Emotional Development that literacy activities can support children’s language and communication skills as well as positively impact their social-emotional development. In this article, we share some strategies for using literacy activities, such as book reading and storytelling, to promote social emotional development.
Creating multiple opportunities to read together whether it is part of a bedtime routine or at different times during the day, provide children and adults those important one-on-one times to interact. Reading together can provide children and adults with a chance to engage in an activity that is calm and quiet — away from the chaos and noise that might be present in their environment. Reading together can also be a time where children can focus on one activity and not be distracted by multiple inputs in their environment. Most importantly, reading together provides a chance for a child to have an adult’s undivided attention especially on those busy days.
Remember, as parents, teachers, or military family service providers we play an important role in designing and creating environments from which children learn and grow, and thus we must choose wisely when we do so!
Parenting. Such a benign word. But anyone who has been a parent knows that the title comes with much more than what they could have bargained for. With the plethora of material available on the topic of parenting one wonders how it is that so many families still find themselves in turmoil with the introduction of this tiny dependent new life. Halas (2014)puts it this way, “We’ve all been there. You look at your new baby and deep joy settles into your soul, but the days to come may not be exactly what you planned. The joy is soon colored by the realities of sleep deprivation, worry and more advice than any human being could ever possibly use” . Parenting sometimes is not at all what new parents expect!
The question becomes how do clinicians effectively tackle this multifaceted stage in newly parented families? Tackling any therapeutic problem often involves the asking of more questions before one can get to a working solution. The first question to ask ourselves is, how much do we know about each individual’s ideas about parenting? And how much do they know about each other’s ideas? Oftentimes the reality is that two individuals have come together and decided to engage in family building while not being cognizant of their partner’s views surrounding parenting. So, is the couple on the same page? Have they considered division of child care, religious beliefs, discipline, family traditions, and the influence of other voices in child care decisions among many others? For military families, have they considered these topics and the changing factors that future military deployment will bring? How will they decide what parenting looks like with one parent away and when that parent returns? What are the types of conversations that have occurred?
Now typically, a therapist or helping professional, will probably be introduced to the family after disagreements surrounding childcare have already escalated. Parents will be frustrated, maybe even angered by their partners inability to see their point! Whatever the case clinicians have the responsibility of slowing down the conversation and getting to the heart of the matter. Can our parents see eye to eye? Can they get to a place of understanding the other partners view? Oftentimes the couple neglects to consider all of the influential factors that have helped create them into the people they now are and the influential factors that continue to influence who they are. Why is this important? Each aspect of our combined life experiences influences the lens through which we view our world and the decisions we make in that world. Becvar, Becvar and Bender (1982) state that, “We all select and edit our reality in order to make it conform to our personal theories” . In that context we can expect that no two individuals will be alike and thus no two parents will have the same views. Clinician responsibility entails being able to be cognizant of that reality and aid clients in recognizing the utility in those differences.
So how do we get there? While the particulars of technique, intervention and “languaging” may differ from clinician to clinician and from modality to modality, one thing remains true. We must listen. We must listen in a way that minimizes our biases and beliefs of how people should be as parents while maximizing on the shared goals and dreams that these parents have for this new life. While they may differ on the process of raising a happy, successful child their end goal is the same. How will you help them to get there?
We tend to strive for perfection in many aspects of our life including our role of spouse, parent, friend, caregiver and colleague. However by putting so much pressure on ourselves to excel, we often create an abundance of stress in our lives. In episode three of the MFLN Military Caregiving Virtual Learning Event (VLE) audiocast series, the narrator encourages us to let go of the pressures and need to solve others’ problems.
The episode, Giving Yourself Compassion, shows us that it is common that thoughts and worries about those we help will follow us home after the work day is done. Giving Yourself Compassion focuses on developing feelings of goodwill, kindness and warmth towards us and others. Research shows that focusing on the positive emotions increased feelings of joy, contentment, gratitude, hope and decreased self-criticism.
Download the mindfulness audiocast episode, “Giving Yourself Compassion,” to learn how you can “refuel your reserves” and learn how to send loving kindness to others in order to ease our concerns and refresh our empathy.
A recent article by Chahine and Sanders (2013) provides an overview of our knowledge regarding child maltreatment, and presents ideas as far as what can be done to better approach this issue, suggesting the use of a public health approach . The following represents a synopsis of this article.
It is impossible to report an accurate number of confirmed cases of child maltreatment annually because there are no commonalities between definitions, tracking procedures, and handling of child maltreatment cases across the various disciplines that encounter it. Furthermore, there are likely many instances reported as accidents that comprise maltreatment, as well as other unidentified cases. Professionals should not wait for media outlets to report on tragic child deaths or serious injuries resulting from child maltreatment cases, allowing them to paint the picture of a failed system. Instead, professionals need to work to become accountable for failures and have a system in place to prevent future tragedies.
If there is a plane crash, do we stop traveling? If there is a lab explosion, do we stop using science? No. We find the root cause, learn to catch problems before they have disastrous effects, and we fix them early. Shouldn’t it be the same for child maltreatment? A public health approach is best here because the child welfare system only knows about reported cases of child maltreatment. Making this issue a broader public health one will allow a larger population to be reached by prevention services.
The first step in preventing child maltreatment is establishing measurement and classification criteria that are consistent across state, local, and national levels in multiple disciplines, which have previously used different legal and regulatory standards (medicine, law enforcement, child welfare, and the judicial system). Using this new criteria and a public health approach, professionals will be able to engage in surveillance, or defining and monitoring the problem in order to determine prevalence and risk, which will help them begin to formulate a plan to address the issue.
Next, professionals should look to identify both risk and protective factors and combine these with surveillance data to get a better picture of what a good prevention strategy might look like. Identifying high-risk families and the times when risk is highest will help provide professionals with opportunities for early intervention strategies. Instead of the media only reporting on child fatalities or serious injury as a result failure by the child protective services, public information campaigns can be used to prevent child maltreatment. They can also be integral in explaining that child safety is a community responsibility, rather than the responsibility of a single agency, and that all citizens can do their part to help.
In order to create these prevention programs, there must be ongoing collaboration between local, state, and national levels as well as a wide variety of service agencies and community partnerships. Having everyone on the same page is essential for improving outcomes, and the public health approach is the best option to achieve effective results.
This post was written by Caitlin Hunter & Heidi Radunovich, PhD, members of the MFLN Family Development (FD) team which aims to support the development of professionals working with military families. Find out more about the Military Families Learning Network FD concentration on ourwebsite, onFacebook, onTwitter,YouTube, and onLinkedIn.
Michaelene Ostrosky, PhD, and Kimberly Hile will discuss the importance of supporting children’s social emotional development by building their early social emotional literacy and vocabulary skills. Specific topics will include:
Research evidence on the importance of early social emotional literacy and vocabulary skills on children’s social emotional well-being.
Selecting age-, developmentally-, and culturally-appropriate books for children to support their social emotional development. We will highlight topics that may be relevant to military families, such as: loneliness, friendships, understanding and acceptance of disability, separation, transitioning to new locations, bonding, dealing with family stressors, and grieving.
Evidence-based strategies for embedding early literacy activities to support children with disabilities within their typical routines and home, school, and in the community.
Parent coaching strategies to support parents’ and caregivers’ implementation of early social emotional literacy and vocabulary activities to facilitate the children’s social emotional development.
MFLN FD Early Intervention webinars offer CE Credits through the Early Intervention Training Program (EITP) at the University of Illinois. The EI team is actively pursuing more CE opportunities in states other than Illinois. Kansas, Kentucky, Ohio, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, & Virginia participants can obtain a certificate of completion to submit to their credentialing agencies for review for CE credits. Please check back frequently to the webinar Learn Event web page to receive updates on our progress. Access to the webinar Learn Event page can be found,here.
Field Talk is a monthly blog post sharing the voices of early childhood providers who serve or have served military families of young children with disabilities (birth to 5 years old). We hope you find it to be educational, personable, and encouraging.
This month we welcome Dr. Kimberlee Ratliff, Ed.D., NCC, NCSC, TLC Trauma and Loss school Specialist.
Dr. Ratliff is the Program Director and an Associate Professor of the M.Ed. School Counseling program at American Public University/American Military University.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.
Describe your current role.
I serve as a content expert in school counseling and educate students who have a desire to be a professional school counselor in P-12 school settings. Many of my students are military spouses or in the military, so we often discuss needs and resources for military families through our program curriculum.
I am fortunate to work for a university founded on supporting educational opportunities for our military and public service workers. We serve those who serve and that is very rewarding.
What’s your favorite part of your current job?
I love preparing my students to become professional school counselors. They have the amazing opportunity to impact the lives of students and families within the U.S. and abroad. The diversity of our learners is incredible and I truly enjoy supporting the educational goals of our students, many of whom are military connected. Knowing that we are filling a need for developing quality school counselors across the globe is a responsibility I take seriously and I love hearing from graduates who are making a difference on the front lines in our schools.
Tell us about experiences you have had working with military families.
First and foremost, I have personal experience as a former military kid, so I had to cope with the frequent moves, confusion of school transitions, and absence of my father figure while he was in Korea and temporary duty (TDY). I have now been a military spouse for 20 years and have a genuine understanding of the challenges of military life as an adult.
Professionally, I was employed as a school counselor in the Ft. Bragg, North Carolina and the Washington, D.C. areas where I had the opportunity to work with military families and military children for 12 years. I helped children transition to new schools and adapt to new social environments and support systems. I facilitated group counseling for military children after 9-11 when constant deployments were in the beginning stages of “normal” life for these families, and I provided resources to support military families outside the school setting.
How did you come to work with military families?
Initially, military children and families were a significant part of the school populations where I worked, so meeting their needs was part of my role as a school counselor. However, the most important part of my work started after September 11th when I was working at an elementary school in North Carolina. For the remainder of that year, I shifted my focus in the school counseling program to address the needs of children with deployed parents and the spouses remaining behind. After implementing several counseling groups, one local family went so far as to transfer to my school, so their child could participate in my small group counseling program. That experience helped me realize the importance of providing free, accessible services to military families in “neutral” settings. Although access to counseling services has improved, there is a stigma to seeking counseling within the culture of the military, so providing services in the school setting was viewed as a normal part of children’s educational experience and removed some of the stigma.
Describe a rewarding experience working with military families.
Military families have a great deal of resilience despite the challenging circumstances they may face. One particularly rewarding experience occurred when I was working with elementary age students in group counseling. After a few weeks of sharing feelings of sadness, anxiety and anger, the group dynamics began to change drastically. After the initial shock of deployment and separation, the group members developed a new sense of resilience. They began to express pride in the deployed family member, began to express healthy coping mechanisms, and found a sense of community and support with one another. Watching them develop through the grief cycle and find strength and resilience was very rewarding. Watching members of the group provide support to each other helped to secure some normalcy in another otherwise not normal situation of having a parent sent to war.
Describe a challenging experience working with military families.
I could name several challenges, but if I have to describe just one it would be the transient nature of military families. There are several frustrations associated with changing schools, learning about new resources and new processes, and adapting to new environments. Continuity of care and stability is important and military life means you often have to disconnect from your support systems on a frequent basis. Some of the most challenging situations are when you finally see progress and then the family moves away. For example, evaluating students for gifted education or special education services is not a quick process. There have been many times when we were at the verge of securing resources and placements at the time when the student moved to another school district. This sometimes requires students to endure further testing and adjusting to a new environment before decisions can be made, and therefore services may be delayed.
From your experience, how are military families similar and different from other types of families? How do you change your practice between families?
Military families often transition from being together, being separated, being reunited, enduring many high stress deployments, etc. For this reason, the family unit is constantly changing. In my opinion, military families share some characteristics with single parent families, particularly when one parent is deployed or away for long periods of time. In some cases, both parents may be deployed and this creates a unique situation where other family members are taking care of the children. This can uproot children and place them in a new environment with new rules, not to mention the grief they experience being away from both parents. Military families do have added stressors related to long separations and the anxieties that accompany lapses of communication, and missing holidays, sporting events, and graduations.
One essential skill in counseling is the ability to adapt your approach and consider the unique culture of clients you are working with in practice. Understanding the transient nature of military families and understanding the family dynamics of separation, reintegration, and the deployment cycle in general, I am more diligent in seeking out resources for social support and more aware of assessing emergent needs. I have found that children need their non-deployed parent to exhibit resilience and optimism. In order to do that, non-deployed parents must have their needs met. This could be providing resources for respite care in order to provide self-care time for a non-deployed parent. I truly believe that you must take care of yourself before you can effectively take care of others.
As providers, how can we support military parents who are deployed or away frequently due to trainings/school?
Communication is key. Many of the interventions implemented in my small group counseling program involved communicating with the deployed parent. Even if communication is not immediately available, we can find creative ways to include the deployed parent. For example, my students recorded an ongoing journal about things they were doing while Mom or Dad were away and they would mail them monthly to their parent. This bridged the gap between what the parent was missing and helped the child connect with the parent through their daily activities even though the parent was not physically present. Some of the best experiences were when the deployed parent would return and thank us for providing that connection to their child while living a world away.
Describe a specific stressor that military families with whom you have worked have shared or experienced.
One specific stressor that tends to be a theme in working with military families is the constant rotation of deployments. It is a rollercoaster ride from the time of finding out about a deployment to the anticipation of them leaving to enduring the worry and stress while they are in harm’s way, and then the emotions associated with the homecoming and having to redefine life again as a family. Roles within the family change frequently and readjusting to those roles can create added stress. If you add symptoms of PTSD to the reunification, it can be even more complicated. I have worked with many families experiencing marital distress, coping with PTSD triggers, and learning to live with irritability or loss of family functioning – things that they did not have to cope with prior to deployment.
What “insider” tips or advice do you have for service providers working with military families who have young children with disabilities?
It is important not to assume that all military families who have young children with disabilities have the exact same needs. Although military families may share common experiences, they are not all exactly the same, just as children with disabilities are not all the same. It is important to ask questions, assess immediate needs, identify immediate sources of support, be familiar with the challenges and strengths associated with military families, be flexible, and have a system in place to assist with expected or unexpected transitions to new duty stations or other relocations. Also, as a service provider it is essential to know the community in which you work and be able to provide helpful support channels for various needs.
If you could change or improve one thing for military families with young children with disabilities, what would it be?
One improvement that I think needs continued attention is continuity of care. There should be a way for military families with young children who have disabilities to move from one place to the next with no interruption or delay in receiving services. I know some cases where the transition was not handled smoothly and children were on waiting lists to continue care they had on a regular basis.
What types of resources have you sought out to feel more confident and competent at meeting the specific needs of military families? (e.g., trainings, blog posts, organizations, etc.)
I attend trainings at counseling conferences, seek out information from publications and newsletters from the Military Child Education Coalition, and seek out research on topics related to military families. It certainly has helped to have firsthand knowledge of military culture and military life.
For children in the military, reunification with a deployed parent can be a joyous time. However, for military families, the stress of deployment is not confined to the parents. The stress of deployment can affect both the physical and mental health of the child. Similar stresses post-deployment, such as combat-related injuries, simply add to the stress military children might have. But how much of an effect does returning from war have on the frequency children need to access physical and mental health services?
A study by Hisle-Gorman and colleagues (2015) examined how parental military deployment, as well as the presence of combat related injuries, impacted children’s need for health care services after parent’s return from deployment . Specifically, the focus was on mental health visits, visits pertaining to injury (not relating to child maltreatment), and visits relating to child maltreatment.
Children of deployed parents were much more likely to require visits to healthcare professionals for mental health, physical injuries, and child maltreatment after their deployed parent returned than did children whose parents did not deploy. For children of deployed parents, the likelihood of requiring such visits in all three categories was significantly higher if the parent returned with a combat-related injury. Child maltreatment visits were even higher when returning parents had sustained multiple injuries. This might be because the increased level of caretaking required for the parent might result in less attention being focused on the child, or greater stress for family members. Interestingly, parental injuries were not associated with child mental health visits or non-maltreatment related visits. This might mean that the overall resiliency a family must have to deal with combat-related injuries might be a significant protective factor for the general and mental health of the child.
Previous research suggested that children have a greater need for health care services while a parent is deployed. However, this research suggests any problems which might be present during deployment might only be made worse post-deployment if proper preventative, proactive care was not in place.
While this study highlights real issues faced by military children, it also found that children are receiving the post-deployment services they need. As military children receive almost half of their health care in off-base civilian facilities , it is important that all physical and mental health care professionals understand deployment-related issues and how they can affect the children they treat.
This post was written by Caitlin Hunter & Heidi Radunovich, PhD, members of the MFLN Family Development (FD) team which aims to support the development of professionals working with military families. Find out more about the Military Families Learning Network FD concentration on our website, on Facebook, on Twitter, YouTube, and on LinkedIn.
Join the Personal Finance team on Tuesday, Nov. 10 at 11 a.m. ET for Student Loans: What Financial Practitioners Need to Know. This 90-minute webinar will focus on the research around lending and borrowing behavior and know-how, repayment options, application process, and important changes coming to the FAFSA process.
Our webinar speakers will include three experts on this topic. Dr. Barbara O’Neill will discuss the impact student loan debt is having on consumers. Dr. Carrie Johnson will then tackle the research around student loan borrowing and lending. Elizabeth Coogan from the Federal Student Aid Office will wrap things up by providing an overview of the resources available from her office and the changes coming to the FAFSA process.
This webinar is approved for 1.5 CEUs for AFC-credentialed and CPFC-credentialed participants.
In early September 2003 in Fayetteville, NC near Fort Bragg, my dogs and I were waiting out Hurricane Isabel. Being approximately 90 miles inland we didn’t need to evacuate and instead spent the day napping on the couch waiting for the weather to clear. At some point a loud crash rattled the house causing the dogs to bark. My very first thought was, “That’s strange. Why would they be firing artillery during a hurricane?” However, a few minutes later, I remembered my dogs never barked at artillery fire, so what was that loud crash? I went to our back window and saw a huge tree had fallen from the neighbor’s property into our yard, crushing our fence but missing our house. It was then I realized I was so accustomed to the noise of military life that I didn’t even think a crashing noise in the midst of a hurricane was anything but business as usual!
Families around the globe, living in a variety of situations, deal with noise pollution all the time. A quick GoogleTM search for the definition of noise pollution and you will find that it is “harmful or annoying levels of noise, as from airplanes, industry, etc.” Living near an airport, a police or fire station, train tracks, or even in a busy city exposes families to noise pollution. However, military families living on or near an installation, even in remote locations, can also experience this as well. Our home was roughly 13 miles from the heart of Fort Bragg yet we also experienced blasts that shook our home.
How does noise pollution affect children? How does it affect children with disabilities? Are those effects any different when the noises are coming from explosions or aircraft? Many military families report that most children get used to these noises the same way adults do. For some children who are new to an installation with many explosions they might startle, duck under their desks, or try to hide at first. However, with time they adapt. Some children develop a keen awareness and can tell the difference between a bombing run, sonic boom, an airplane on a flight path, and thunder. Other children find the noises exciting, especially when it comes from an airplane. They may want to look out the window or go outside because they imagine that one of their parents might be on that plane. For most military children, they learn early what the noises are and they adapt.
For others, including some children with disabilities, these noises can be downright terrifying. For children with anxiety or sensory disorders, it can be very scary, especially at times when a parent is deployed. The child may become very scared because they are too young to understand how far away combat is or from where the noise is coming. One military mother reported that her daughter, who has an anxiety disorder, “would just scream and scream. And it keeps you up at night and breaks your dishes.” While a lot of families adapt to the noise, for many of the families with whom practitioners work this kind of noise pollution is a daily intrusion into the family’s life and overall well-being.
How can you as an Early Interventionist or Early Childhood Special Educator support families and children like those described? What things do you as a practitioner need to know and understand to better serve these populations? In the upcoming webinar on Nov. 12, the MFLN Family Development Early Intervention team will discuss inclusive and supportive environments. Noise pollution will be one of the many issues our presenters will touch on. To learn more, or to join us at 11 a.m. EST on Nov. 12 go to https://learn.extension.org/events/2120.
One of the interesting things we may take for granted in our work as personal finance practitioners is that as we develop ourselves as professionals, that is, as we study, obtain our certifications, pursue continuing education, and build up our experience over the years, we become more knowledgeable. And we take for granted that this knowledge is a benefit, because it allows us, naturally, to become more effective in our work with the people we serve. This makes sense. And it makes so much sense it’s fair to say we often regard it as simply a common sense truth.
But can greater knowledge ever present a problem for us as practitioners? Can it ever, contrary to our common sense assumptions, get in the way and cause us to actually be less effective in some situations?
Two notions from cognitive and behavioral economics research, the curse of knowledge and hindsight bias, suggest this can sometimes be the case. The curse of knowledge describes a tendency to become so knowledgeable in understanding something that it comes to seem rather simple, as if it’s “just common sense.” We tend to forget the work it took for us to develop that understanding, and, as everything comes to seem so obvious to us now, we’re left wondering why everyone else doesn’t just “get” this common sense stuff too. Hindsight bias describes a particular challenge related to the curse of knowledge, the difficulty we can have remembering and reproducing the understanding and perspective we had before we became so knowledgeable.
So how can being aware of the curse of knowledge and hindsight bias help us as practitioners? One benefit may be the awareness that these tendencies can leave us with an important blind spot in our perspective of the people we serve. Our clients often come to us knowing relatively less than we do as trained and experienced professionals, or they might even know really nothing at all about all this “common sense” personal finance stuff.
This blind spot can leave us to make assumptions about our clients and what they’re capable of, and these assumptions can greatly influence how we interact and communicate with them. Many of us as practitioners have learned from experience that people can have a tendency to live up or down to our expectations of them. These expectations can have a profound influence on how our clients may come to perceive themselves and their sense of efficacy. This is important to take into consideration if one of our most fundamental goals as practitioners is supporting our clients in becoming more confident and effective in their financial lives.
The influence of these assumptions on our interactions and conversations can also affect whether we seem credible and approachable to the people we hope to serve, so they can affect our opportunity to have a positive impact as a resource (even before someone has a chance to actually work with us).
Remembering how the world of personal finance looked and felt when we were still uninformed novices can also give us an important frame of reference. It can sometimes help us figure out more effective ways to approach the information we have to share with our clients, and to more effectively help our clients bridge the gap between their current understanding and what they hope to better understand with some effective support and experience.
So what do you think? Are there other ways the curse of knowledge and hindsight bias might influence us and the work we do as practitioners? What other aspects of being an effective practitioner do you think would be important for us to think about and explore?