Tag Archives: military kids

When You #OptOutside, You Change on the Inside

Recently, I left my home on the sunny beaches of Florida, and headed for the Pennsylvania mountains for a few days. I wouldn’t necessarily call myself “outdoorsy,” but maybe I could change? This trip to the mountains was unlike any other I’ve experienced. And there were 30 people meeting me there who’d change my perspective in a matter of hours.

You see, I was headed to NMFA’s Operation Purple Healing Adventures® retreat, a free three-day experience for wounded, ill, injured, medically separated, or medically retired military families. At Healing Adventures, families use outdoor exploration, like hiking and canoeing, to encourage each family member’s growth on their new journey post-injury.

I met and chatted with some of the families as they arrived to the Pocono Environmental Education Center—where we’d be camping for the next few days. Some of us connected over our outdoor skills (or lack thereof), and we shared an excitement for the days ahead.

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I went hiking with a Navy veteran, who injured his back during a deployment training exercise, and listened to his family’s story of resiliency. He shared how it felt helpless to rely on his wife to do things for him, and how devastating it was to tell his crying daughter that he couldn’t pick her up to console her because his back couldn’t support them both. Talking to them, I found out it wasn’t just the service member who had to recover after an injury—the family also has to find a ‘new normal.’ After a few more miles, we made it to the summit of the mountain, and I snapped a photo of them to celebrate the moment. They’d been the through peaks and valleys of military life, but when they stood by each other, no obstacle was unconquerable.

The next day, I watched an Army National Guard veteran with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder share a loving moment with his two adolescent sons as they worked together to coax an ember into a burning fire. When the flame took, the sons high-fived, and like a phoenix rising from the ashes, the father looked transformed with pride as he glanced at his wife, who stood next to me, watching. She was nearly in tears when she shared that her family rarely did anything outdoors together because of her husband’s injury. I watched as she encouraged her boys to gently flame the fire, and celebrated with them when it grew in size. Something told me they’d be an outdoorsy family now.

As I shared Thanksgiving dinner with my own family yesterday, I thought about the millions of people who’d be hitting the pavement to take part in the Black Friday hustle and bustle. Waiting in lines and braving the crowds for stuff wasn’t for me. I wanted to #OptOutside.

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Today, REI, parks, nonprofits, companies and communities are all coming together to get more people outdoors on Black Friday instead of standing in line. And we want you to go outside with us! Whether your family takes a walk together to a playground nearby, go for a bike ride, or rock climb on the Appalachian Trial, we know being outside does something good for the soul.

I decided to take my dog on a long walk in the bright Florida sunshine, because being inside on a 75 degree day seemed unjust. While walking, I remembered those two military families from Healing Adventures camp. Being “outdoorsy” together brought them closer, without distraction, without crowds, and without the need for ‘stuff.’

That trip to Healing Adventures, and meeting those families, was the perfect reminder that despite my lack of outdoorsy-ness, when you decided to #OptOutside, you change on the inside.

Join in the #OptOutside movement by simply walking out your front door! When you do, share it with the world using the #OptOutside hashtag!

shannonPosted by Shannon Prentice, Content Development Manager

Military Mom’s Gym Bag: 4 Excuse-Busting Ways to Get Your Workout Done

As a military wife and stay at home mom, I’ve had to get creative with my workouts over the past few years. With the help of amazing resources on our post, I have been able to get my workouts in and not make excuses. Before parenthood, I would go to the gym whenever I wanted, but now it is a little harder. I have a deep appreciation and love for exercise, because I feel absolutely amazing after a workout. Are you in the same boat? Here are some resources which might be available to help you get your workout in!

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Strollers and Mommy: This is an exercise class where moms come together with their kids in their stroller. I have not personally done this; however, the one on post is taught by a personal trainer. In my location, the first class is free. What a great opportunity to see if it can work for you and your baby! Check out what options are available in your area, and if there aren’t any, consider starting a group!

Community Center Gym: Do you live on post? Well, if you do, you might be able to take advantage of the housing office community center gym. I have used the gyms in my housing community on Fort Hood and Fort Leavenworth. The housing office offers a small gym which has a play area for the kids (though all might not). It’s been a true blessing for this mommy, for sure! I can exercise and watch my kid Monday-Sunday from 5am-10pm. If I want to go when the housing office is closed, I have a key card which allows me to enter. Remember, this is usually a smaller gym, but it should be equipped with cardio and weight training. Thanks to this resource, I am not paying for a gym membership, daycare, and/or extra fees.

MWR Gym:  At this point in my life, I don’t use the MWR gyms as much as I did in the past. However, I do get over there from time to time when my husband can watch my little one, or if she is in preschool. These gyms are much bigger and offer many more machines and activities. Free weights, cardio, weight machines, classes, basketball, and much more all under one roof. Another great reason I use this gym is the sauna and shower. I can work out, use the sauna, shower, dress, and go home. This is a great option, so I can get home and spend more time with the family.

Child Development Centers (CDC) Hourly Care: Once you have been through registration at the CDC, you can reserve spots for your child in hourly care. For a few dollars an hour, your child is looked after. I have used hourly care on several occasions for my three-year-old, and it is a true blessing. There are days when I want to go running or not stop every five minutes with weight training. CDC hourly care is another great option. Plus, it is usually a few streets away from the gym.

Working out takes dedication, even for those without children, but with a little extra effort and resourcefulness, you won’t miss out!

What tips do you have for other military spouses trying to balance parenting and exercise? Share it with us!

Posted by Jessica Richardson, National Military Family Association Volunteer, Fort Leavenworth, KS

How to Help an Anxious Child After a PCS Move

PCS season rush  is over. You have relocated, which means you found and moved into a new home in a new town with new people and are anticipating new experiences.

However, your child is anxious and may feel like they’ve lost control of their life because they have been removed from their school, friends, and home. They also may feel as if they have lost their sense of security, too.  As a military parent, I have sought out professional help from therapists and read countless books on how to help my child adjust and feel comfortable in their new settings.

Here are some tips that have helped my own children thrive after relocating:

  1. Remind them of their blessings: basic necessities met are considered blessings, such as shelter, food, water and clothes. Reminding them, but not comparing to those without, allows the child to realize that they are safe and in-control of their own environment.
  2. Point out the amazing and extraordinary activities, like traveling, visiting, and living in a place that might not have happened to an average child their age.
  3. Find ways to minimize anxiety by encouraging and facilitating ways your child can be an active participant in problem-solving their own issues.

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But not all problems are from the anxiety of moving. Sometimes, they’re just typical kid problems. And we’ve faced them, too. Here’s some helpful examples pulled from my own experiences as a military parent raising military children:

Riding the bus
If your child is anxious of riding the school bus, encourage the child to ask the bus driver to assign them a seat. The child will feel control in sitting in a seat that is assigned to him or her because it will give the child a sense of security.

Student-teacher personality clash
new school means a new set of teachers who are unaware of your child’s quirks. If your child is experiencing a personality clash with a specific teacher, help your child write a letter or note allowing them to express their thoughts and emotions in a constructive manner that is both helpful and progressive. The child has the ability to remind the teacher they are trying their best, promise to keep up, and desire a great school year. This will allow the anxious child to feel like an active participant in controlling their environment and situation with their teacher.

Neighborhood bully
If a another child is bullying youus, the best solution is to encourage your them to express their concerns to the child bothering them. Most military children already feel lack of control over their lives, it is not acceptable for their peers to restrict any more of their sense of safety and security. Remind the anxious child that making bold statements is hard but they were able to do it, which proves that they are strong, reasonable, and in-control of their own life.

If your child is the so-called bully, allow other kids to express acceptable and reasonable thoughts and opinions of your child’s behavior to them. As a parent, find ways to encourage group participation without leading the group. Help your child learn new ways to be cooperative without losing their autonomy.

If a child apologizes to yours, as a parent you should also feel as if they have apologized to you, too. Allow the children to solve their situation as much as they can on their own and only get involved when necessary.

Parenting is tough. None of this easy to do, facilitate, or encourage. However, we as parents, are given an extraordinary privilege to raise extraordinary children. Should you feel frustrated and need encouragement, I recommend speaking to a licensed professional. Military OneSource, TRICARE, and Give an Hour can assist you in finding a therapist who is ready to help you and your family thrive.

What tips would you give other parents with kids who are having a tough time after a PCS?

Posted by Fari Bearman, military spouse and NMFA Volunteer

Advice For New Moms: Just Kidding, We Know You’re Sick of It

Even on baby #3, it still feels like I can’t get it “right.” Part of that is because every baby is so different. But also, what’s “right” is a moving target. Those books you read 10 years ago? Toss ‘em. That advice your doctor gave you after baby #2? That’s no longer the case either. And every mom you meet is full of advice from their own personal experience.

“Oh he’s not sleeping? Have you tried keeping him up later?”

“You should put him down to sleep earlier.”

“Stop nursing him at night.”

“Definitely nurse him at night. You don’t want your breastfeeding supply to dwindle!”

I have to remind myself the breastfeeders and the formula feeders, the co-sleepers and the never-co-sleepers all want the same thing… happy, healthy babies.

October is Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) Awareness Month. If you’re a mom, you know about SIDS. It’s our worst fear. Once we finally get over the fear of losing our baby in utero, we move on to this next phase that keeps us up at night (along with the crying newborn).

In honor of SIDS Awareness Month, let’s try something different. I’m not going to tell you to how to take care of your baby or how to create a safe sleep environment. We get enough of that, right? Instead, let’s narrow down the whole conversation to two important points.

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  1. Babies need to breathe.

Mary Adkins, a member of the National Action Partnership to Promote Safe Sleep (NAPPSS) steering committee, agrees that moms get bombarded with enough advice.

“Parents are so tired of everyone telling them what to do and making them feel like a bad parent,” she said. “That just doesn’t work.”

Preach, sister. We are tired of it. I’ve read it all; I have a (sleep-deprived) brain; I can make my own informed decisions.

Keyword: informed.

“If you think about how tiny that nose and mouth really is and how very little it takes to obstruct that. If you can get that visual and always keep the air around your baby’s nose and mouth uncompromised, the other recommendations follow logically,” Adkins said.

  1. Babies will exhaust you in a way you never thought imaginable.

My one year old woke up EVERY HOUR for the first 7 months of his life. Even now, he’s up once a night. The toll this takes on your body and mind is no joke. You make decisions you wouldn’t normally make—letting your baby sleep on your chest while you sleep in a recliner, for example. No judgement, I’ve done it. Is it safe, though? Absolutely not.

“Parents, especially first time parents are pretty stunned about what that baby requires,” Adkins said. “They are not prepared for how different the sleep cycle of an infant is from their own.”

Unfortunately, there’s not a national program to help military spouses with newborn sleep, but there are programs like Mission Sleep taking steps to make a difference.

And here’s something I wish somebody had told me: you’re not going crazy. This is what babies do, and it won’t last forever.

Most importantly—ask for help and accept it when it’s offered.

Military spouses often find themselves in a particularly vulnerable situation: alone with a new baby while their spouse is deployed and their families are across the country.

If you find yourself in this position, don’t be afraid to talk to your doctor or your FRG leader about support groups. Take advantage of the military spouse tribe near you.

If you’re like me and you’re still not getting it “right,” don’t worry. That’s what ice cream is for.

What kept you sane during those rough, sleepless nights with your newborn? Share your encouragement in the comments!

besa_2016Posted by Besa Pinchotti, Communications Director

Sesame Street and the USO Tackle Military-to-Civilian Transition in New Show

“My family is going to be moving to a new base . . .again,” trails off Katie’s sorrowful announcement to her pals during the Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families – a free, traveling show for U.S. service members and their families. “It seems like every time I get settled, I have to move again.”

Katie’s sentiment represents the stark reality for many military kids. They move.  A lot.

A service member and his or her family will face countless changes and challenges throughout a military career and beyond, and deployments, frequent moves, navigating the transition from military to civilian life are just a few. Sesame Street and the USO understand these changes effect the whole family and hope to ease the stress that can accompany these transitions with messages and tips from this special Sesame Street/USO tour.

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The tour debuted in 2008 and has evolved to reflect the ever-changing needs of America’s military families. Last year, the tour traveled overseas to introduce its newest show about military-to-civilian transition called “Katie’s Family Transitions to Civilian Life.” This latest installment, featuring new songs and choreography, runs simultaneously with their ever-popular hit “Katie is Moving to a New Base,” bringing the journey of a service member and his or her family full circle.

Both moving and military-to civilian transition effect the whole family. The U.S. Department of Defense Education Activity website states military kids move six to nine times between preschool and high school education. These statistics, and the faces they represent, provided Sesame Street and the USO an opportunity to combine their skill and knowledge to create an entertaining resource that tackles these realities head on. The goal of each show is to ensure that military kids and their parents are empowered with the confidence and assurance that they are not going through these transitions alone.

In the new show, Katie — Elmo’s military friend — is transitioning back to civilian life at Sesame Street after living on military bases for the past few years. At first, Katie feels unsure about this big change in her life, but her Sesame Street friends help her realize that she will always be a part of the military community even as she goes on this new adventure. Her experience echoes that of many military kids.

Sesame Street and the USO know everyone can relate to having to find a new job or changing careers, but military families face that challenge, as well as a host of other important changes, when they transition from military to civilian life. For military families everything is different. From the lingo and clothing to the surroundings and structure, none of the everyday rituals of life exist any longer. These types of transitions, and others, can stress both parents and children. To help fill that space and alleviate that burden, the Sesame Street/USO tour helps kids express how they are feeling and what they might be thinking.

The Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families tour is currently touring in the U.S. and will wrap up at the end of October 2016.

Has your family seen the Sesame Street show? How awesome was it?!

Another “First Day of School?” Check Out These Tips!

School is back in swing, and we know it can be an exciting time filled with new experiences, teachers, and friends, but along with that excitement often comes a bit of apprehension. Those concerns can be amplified for military children who, according to the National Military Family Association, change schools on average six to nine times during their K-12 years. Pediatric neuropsychologist, Dr. Jim Olsen states, “uncertainty is the number one challenge for kids and the cause of most anxiety during [a] move.”

If your family has recently relocated to a new duty station, take a moment to recognize that mixed emotions are normal! Staying in touch with friends from former duty stations can help kids establish a sense of continuity in their nomadic military lifestyle, and the era of social media, smart phones, and Skype has made it easier than ever to do so. I’ve found that social media can also be a great way to engage with a new community. Check out school social media pages for clubs, sports, and other ways to get involved and meet potential friends.

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In the quest for new friendships, don’t forget to encourage your family to occasionally put down the electronics and reach out to others in person (neighborhood Halloween party, anyone?). Sometimes the best ways to make new friends are the decidedly old-fashioned ones. If you have older children, volunteering over the summer, or during breaks at school, can be a great way to make new connections, fill school community service requirements, build a resume for future college applications, and a surefire way to start feeling at home.

What else can you do to ease your military kid’s transition back to class this fall?

Use the first few months of the new school year as an opportunity to establish good communication with school and educational staff. Let your child’s teacher know about any special circumstances that might impact their classroom performance such as a current or upcoming deployment, homecoming, reintegration challenges, or changes of duty station. This is particularly important if your family is living in a non-military town where teachers and staff may be less familiar with the lifestyle challenges of the military family.

The new school year is also a good time to assess how your child is progressing academically and determine if any assistance is needed to reach educational goals. The Department of Defense offers free memberships to Tutor.com for all K-12 military students providing one-on-one online tutoring and homework assistance in math, science, social studies, languages, and test preparation. Check it out!

If you are located on or near a military base, make sure to take advantage of the many resources available through community service programs designed to help your child succeed in school. Have a child with special educational needs? School liaison officers are available to serve as disability advocates. Need help purchasing school supplies to start the school year? Check out Operation Homefront’s Back-to-School Brigade program which distributed more than 25,000 backpacks full of school supplies last year to children aboard military installations nationwide. Reach out to your family readiness/liaison officer or ombudsman for more information about these and other installation specific programs.

Making the transition from the lazy days of summer back to regular school routines can be stressful for both children and parents alike. Calm first day of school nerves by practicing the new routine a few days in advance. Routines are comforting for children, and knowing what to expect will make the first day run much more smoothly for everyone. Most importantly, don’t forget to smile for those first day of school pictures! It’s the beginning of a brand new year of learning and fun.

What are some tips you have for military kids who are starting a new school?

Posted by Barbara Eastom-Bates, NMFA Volunteer

Read All the Books…Even When a Parent is Deployed

At my kid’s elementary school, reading homework is mandatory for every grade—at least 30 minutes a day for the older kids and 20 for the younger ones. As a mom of 3, whose kids are in everything from soccer to ballet, it’s hard to find the time! And shhhhh, don’t tell their teachers but, sometimes we don’t get to it. And my husband isn’t on active duty anymore, so he’s here to help.

But what about currently serving military families? Contrary to popular belief, deployments are not ending—so military spouses are holding down the fort at home, reading homework and all.

Of course reading homework isn’t about the homework or the 20-30 minutes… the point is that reading together as a family has a critical impact on literacy.

Nobody understands this better than United Through Reading (UTR), a wonderful nonprofit with 200 locations around the world offering service members a chance to get video-recorded reading books for their children.

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Today, UTR released a report on “Nurturing Literacy Skills for Children in Military Families through the Read-Aloud Experience.” The study begins by citing a series of troubling reports on the state of literacy in our country. A third of American kids go to Kindergarten unprepared, and about 20% of high school graduates can’t read. What??? Kids are graduating high school unable to read?

There’s no simple answer to this monumental problem for our country, but UTR has an amazing program that tackles one of the primary, proven remedies: reading aloud to children.

The United Through Reading program provides regular availability of the read-aloud experience to military children who otherwise may find this experience harder to come by with one deployed parent and one busy parent at home taking on the full weight of running the household,” the UTR report explains.

Of course there’s Skype and Facetime and other online video options—but those often cut out due to poor connection when I sit on the wrong side of the house, so how reliable can they be from the other side of the world? What UTR provides are clear recordings of a parent reading, without interruption. Their child can follow along and get that important read-aloud experience regardless of whether their mom or dad is in Djibouti, Afghanistan or their living room.

Some reminders from UTR’s report that military families live every day, but much of the world forgets:

  • Military families relocate 10 times more often than civilian families — on average, every 2 or 3 years.
  • Since 2001, more than 2 million American children have had a parent deployed at least once, and more than 900,000 children have experienced the deployment of one or both parents multiple times.
  • A RAND Corporation study even found a strong association between children who have endured separations from a parent due to deployment and lower achievement in reading and math.

Some kids watch their recorded story hundreds of times during their parent’s deployment. How many days of homework does that add up to??

Has your family taken advantage of UTR? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.

besa_2016Posted by Besa Pinchotti, Communications Director