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The Month of the Military Child is celebrated during April. It highlights the importance of these children in the lives of their families and the communities they grow up in.
Growing up as a military child can be a challenge. Constant moves every couple of years prepare military children for frequent change. In the current circumstances of the world, where a pandemic is at the top of a long list of stressors we face, military children may be better suited to meet these challenges head-on.
Maj. Sarah Bowles, 325th Logistics Readiness Squadron commander, brings to light this suitability and how her four children are dealing with the pandemic.
Her children have been able to build connections around the world because of their many military moves over the years.
“They are so used to change at this point that it seems everything that has come their way is shortly ruminated upon and then accepted as the new normal,” said Bowles. “This helps them to put current events into perspective.”
Military children often have to reset every few years and establish a new normal in school. This may come in the form of learning a different curriculum or style of teaching, and can be magnified during the current pandemic, when motivation may be hard to find while schooling from home.
Each of Bowles’ three daughters is different when it comes to their education.
“My oldest is very dedicated to her studies and to maintaining a superior standing,” said Bowles.
Her other two daughters, however, require more incentive to stay on task.
“I am using this experience to teach each of them to be self-driven students – with mixed results so far,” Bowles continued.
Students in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic are required to stay home from school and engage in digital learning.
“Everything is virtual so social interaction with their teachers and peers is relegated to little pockets of time each day or every few days,” Bowles said. “This is accomplished through virtual meetings, videos that the teachers post, and messages between the teachers, parents and students.”
Staff Sgt. Samuel Monroe, 325th Comptroller Squadron commander support staff noncommissioned officer in charge, has six children, four of whom are in school.
“It has been a big adjustment for all of us … navigating the many different websites and applications that they must use to accomplish their day-to-day assignments,” Monroe said.
School isn’t all about learning though. Military children are all too familiar with the need to establish a new friend group at each new school and subsequent duty station. This can lead to alternative ways to keep in touch with friends they have had in the past, or maintaining a bond with siblings or extended family.
“We have encouraged them to spend more time with their siblings so that they are not spending too much time in isolation,” Monroe said. “My older children who have cell phones are keeping in contact with their friends and sharing their experience with them.”
Monroe’s children are not the only ones keeping in touch with friends outside of the home.
“My girls talk to current friends and those from past assignments as well as relatives through messenger apps, sharing their situation details and comparing them with those of their friends,” said Bowles. “It’s a ‘we’re all in the same boat’ approach for them.”
Even in today’s hi-tech world, Bowles’ oldest daughter is using good old-fashioned “snail mail” to send letters and pictures back and forth to a cousin in Ohio.
Getting outside as a family, while maintaining proper social distancing guidance, can also help children get a break from the extended amounts of screen time they may run into and may reduce stress.
“We stay active as a family by walking, biking, scootering several miles a day, doing projects around the house and making up activities in our backyard,” Bowles said. “The exercise and resultant exhaustion works well to quell anxiety.”
Bowles teaches her children certain values and skills that can help them during their time as military children and those skills are emphasized at a time like this. One thing they are taught is to get involved in the community.
“As a family, we presented several of our neighbors with a roll of toilet paper and our cell phone numbers,” said Bowles. “We also say hello and check in with them from a distance on our daily walks and rides. We want (our children) to be active, engaged and aware of others around them while simultaneously gleaning the connectedness they need as humans with those around them.”
Her kids are also taught to be curious. They keep their minds active by watching cooking shows, learning new languages, and exploring the world around them. On their daily walks, they are able to catch a glimpse of alligators in the ponds near their house and the hawks and eagles that fly overhead.
Growing up and being exposed to many different cultures around the country, and sometimes the world, can establish a different outlook on life from those who haven’t had that experience.
“This approach – what military life has taught them – gives them a problem solving and planning framework that not a lot of their civilian contemporaries have until later in life,” Bowles said. “Adversity is something military kids simply work through instead of being overcome by.”
Problem solving and planning are two of the traits Bowles believes her children have learned and have an understanding of earlier in life while growing up in a military family. They have also been encouraged to have gratitude.
“At dinner every night, as we say grace, we collectively express gratitude for our situation and that we have one another,” said Bowles.
Monroe believes taking responsibility and knowing when to ask for help are two crucial takeaways he wants his kids to know.
“We have tried to teach them to be more responsible with their own workloads instead of waiting on someone to tell them what and when to do it,” Monroe continued. “We also had to stress to them about the importance of asking for help.”
Even during these challenging times it is important to remain optimistic, not only about the world as it is, but also about the future.
“Early on, they were afraid to let us know they were struggling with all of the changes,” said Monroe of his children. “We had to have a few family meetings to discuss them being more open about those struggles and that we are here to help them get through this.”
Bowles said she and her husband also face their own challenges in this new environment.
“My husband and I struggle to constantly cultivate optimism, so it is a forcing function for us that teaches the kids to simply focus on the good and know it always gets better,” Bowles said. “As a family, we verbalize optimism regularly regarding our current circumstances as well as those in the coming years and even decades.”
“The kids stay focused on the future and remain optimistic about it,” Bowles continued. “We are planning to (move) to England this summer which will be new and exciting for them so we spend time learning about England and Europe, brainstorming travel ideas, and planning for their new rooms in their new house.”
The world will eventually establish a new normal. Military children will continue to move around. They will reestablish themselves at different schools, and make new friends. These challenges, including the ones they are facing today, will help them be more ready than ever.
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