STARs for Teachers
  • Approximately two million military children have experienced a parental deployment since 2001.
  • There are currently 1.2 million military children of active duty members worldwide.
  • Nearly 80 percent of military children attend public schools throughout the United States.
  • The average military family moves three times more often than their civilian counterpart.
  • The repeated and extended separations and increased hazards of deployment compound stressors in military children’s lives.
  • One third of school-age military children show psychosocial behaviors such as being anxious, worrying often, crying more frequently. 1
  • The U.S. military consists of approximately 1.4 million active duty service members and 810,000 National Guard and Selected Reserve. Active duty military families live on or near military installations worldwide. National Guard and Reserve families might never live near a military installation, and look within their community for educational services, friendship and support.
  • A positive school environment, built upon caring relationships among all participants—students, teachers, staff, administrators, parents and community members—has been shown to impact not only academic performance but also positively influence emotions and behaviors of students.
  • Supporting the military child takes a school-wide effort, and professional development opportunities to inform school staff of the academic and social-emotional challenges military children face.

References

1 Flake, E.M.; Davis, B.E.; Johnson, P.L.; Middleton, L.S. (August 2009). “The Psychosocial Effects of Deployment on Military Children.” Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics. 30, 4:271- 278.

2 Blum, R. “Best Practices: Building Blocks for Enhancing School Environment.” Military Child Initiative. Source: AASA Toolkit: Supporting the Military Child 

FOCUS ON STUDENTS AND THE CLASSROOM LEARNING ENVIRONMENT: Retain classroom routines and an emphasis on the importance of learning, always leaving room for tending to students’ needs.

 

PROVIDE S TRUCTURE: Maintain a predictable, structured class schedule with specific rules and consequences to provide support and consistency for your students. When students are distressed about news from their parents or the circumstances of the deployment, you may want to find an appropriate time for students to share feelings, needs, and fears and have their feelings validated. It is important for students to believe that they are not alone emotionally and to be reassured that their school is a safe and caring place.

 

MAINTAIN OBJECTIVITY: Respond to events in a calm and caring manner, answer questions in simple, direct terms while helping student’s transition back to their normal studies and activities. Regardless of personal political beliefs, as a professional educator entrusted with vulnerable children who need nurturing and support, refraining from expressing possible negative opinions about their loved one’s involvement in the military is a significant contribution to their emotional well-being.

 

REINFORCE SAFETY AND SECURITY: After any classroom discussion of a deployment related event, end the discussion with a focus on the child’s safety and the safety measures being taken on behalf of their loved one. In the event of a deployment due to crisis or war, protect students from unnecessary exposure to frightening situations and reminders. Limit adult-to-adult conversations about frightening details in front of your students. It is best not to have television news as a backdrop when students are in class.

 

BE PATIENT AND REDUCE STUDENT WORK LOAD AS NEEDED: Expect some temporary slow down or disruption in learning when a change affecting students occurs. Plan for shorter lessons and proceed at a slower pace when necessary. [recommendation: change this a bit to reflect the individual student and not the class as a whole]

 

LISTEN: Be approachable, attentive and sensitive to the unique needs of children coping with deployment and family separations. Let the child know that they can speak with you or with a school counselor, nurse, psychologist or social worker about their questions and concerns. Take time to discuss the deployment and provide factual information. It is important to reduce fear and prevent rumors from spreading. By allowing students to ask questions, they can gain information about the event which helps take away some of their confusion. Talk about events in terms they can understand. Limit scary or hurtful communication. Some children may express themselves inappropriately; however, it is important to recognize that this is also a way of coping with overwhelming feelings of fear, anxiety and confusion.

 

BE SENSITIVE TO LANGUAGE AND CULTURAL NEEDS: It is difficult to express or interpret feelings when children and parents or caregivers speak a different primary language. Bilingual/bicultural personnel are most important in providing intervention services. Teachers and other school personnel must be aware of, knowledgeable about and sensitive to the values and beliefs of other cultures in order to assist students and their families appropriately. Inquire about school, community and military resources that are available to assist.

 

ACKNOWLEDGE AND VALIDATE FEELINGS: Help students develop a realistic understanding of deployment. Provide reassurance to students that the feelings of loss, anger, frustration or grief are normal responses to separation. Everyone reacts and adjusts to deployment and change at a different pace.

 

REINFORCE ANGER MANAGEMENT: Expect some angry outbursts from students. While recognizing that it is natural to feel hurt and angry when someone we care about has left, there are appropriate ways to express anger without hurting yourself or taking your anger out on others. Reinforce age-appropriate anger management and adjustment interventions to ensure a climate of nonviolence and acceptance. Make appropriate referral to the school counselor as appropriate.

 

Source: Educators Guide to the Military During Deployment This booklet, sponsored by the Educational Opportunities Directorate of the Department of Defense, is intended to help educators build coping skills in students during and after a military deployment. http://www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/os/homefront/homefront.pdf

HOW STUDENTS REACT TO DEPLOYMENT
Emotional reactions vary in nature and severity from student to student. Previous experiences or lack of experience with deployment, temperament, personality and the student’s assessment of danger to their family member determine the child’s reactions. Nonetheless, some commonalities exist when lives are disrupted by sudden separations and dramatic family changes.

  • Loss of Stability: Deployments interrupt the normal order and routine of
    daily life. Lack of stability is very threatening. Deployments can upset the
    equilibrium for extended periods of time. In the mind of the student, if this sudden change can occur, then it is possible that other unpredictable events might also transpire.
  • Loss of Control: By their very nature, deployments represent events over
    which the child has no control. Lack of control over happenings that
    impact daily life can produce an overwhelming feeling in children.
  • Individual Reactions: Children’s immediate reaction to deployment often
    includes a fear for their own safety. They may be intensely worried about
    what will happen to them and their family members, to a degree that may
    be judged by adults as unreasonable. However, young children have
    difficulty putting the needs of others before their own. Children need
    repeated reassurance regarding their own safety and the outcome of the
    deployment as it relates to them and their daily lives.

Conversely, for a variety of reasons, some children may express relief that the family member has left the family unit. The deployment may put an end to pre-existing family tension or dysfunction or it may represent the finality of an action that resolves the child’s anxiety, fear and uncertainty about when the separation will occur. However shocked or dismayed adults may be by children’s reactions, it provides an opportunity for children and adults to understand their respective thoughts and feelings and marks a beginning point to work toward a new adjustment in the family.

COMMON STRESS REACTIONS
Acute reactions to separation generally appear within the first 24 to 48 hours. In the two weeks after the deployment, the reactions may change. Behaviors will vary depending upon the age and developmental maturity of the child. It is also  important to note that it is possible for weeks or months to pass before a delayed reaction will become apparent and cause problems. (See Normal Reactions to Stress section)
If symptoms persist over several weeks or seem extreme, teachers, with the help of the school counselor, should contact the parent. The teacher should consult with the school site administrator and support staff to ensure that the appropriate mental health referrals are recommended within the school or community. Support staff members may include the school nurse, school psychologist, school social worker and crisis intervention team member.
The duration and intensity of stress reactions vary greatly depending on the level of impact on the child and family. These emotional surges may pass more quickly with the support of loved ones, friends, social contacts and military affiliations. If the separation is extremely traumatic, the need for counseling is very normal and sometimes necessary for healing and adjustment to take place. Counseling does not indicate that a person is mentally ill. It shows that a person is strong enough to accept help with the goal of learning how to manage changes in a constructive way.
WHEN SHOULD A REFERRAL TO A SCHOOL COUNSELOR, PSYCHOLOGIST, OR SOCIAL WORKER BE MADE?
If symptoms persist over several weeks or seem extreme, teachers, with the help of the school counselor, should contact the parent. The teacher should consult with the school site administrator and support staff to ensure that the appropriate mental health referrals are recommended within the school or community.
Support staff members may include the school nurse, school psychologist, school social worker and crisis intervention team member. The duration and intensity of stress reactions vary greatly depending on the level of impact on the child and family. These emotional surges may pass more quickly with the support of loved ones, friends, social contacts and military affiliations. If the separation is extremely traumatic, the need for counseling is very normal and sometimes necessary for healing and adjustment to take place. Counseling does not indicate that a person is mentally ill. It shows that a person is strong enough to accept help with the goal of learning how to manage changes in a constructive way.
WHY MUST THE TEACHER BECOME INVOLVED?
It is important to become involved for two reasons. First, studies have shown that the way in which an adult responds to individuals and groups after a crisis can significantly affect the outcome of the student’s experience. Once the immediate physical and safety needs of the child are met, consideration must be given to the psychological needs of those affected. Through supportive interventions, delayed or prolonged stress responses can be minimized and learning can resume. Second, the process of effective intervening with individuals or groups of children can create a sense of class cohesiveness and help to re-establish the student’s sense of security and belonging in class.
CAN DEPLOYMENT AND THE ADJUSTMENT PERIOD AFTER DEPLOYMENT AFFECT LEARNING?
Deployment and the period after deployment affect learning by creating instability in the lives of individual students as well as the classroom. Stressed students have difficulty concentrating, learning new concepts and controlling emotional expression. Some students may become very quiet and withdrawn while other may become disruptive and overly active. Their academic functioning may be impaired. Studies have shown that prolonged stress alters brain chemistry and function, causing students to have difficulty with concentration, memory, behavior and control of emotions.
HOW CAN MY SCHOOL COUNSELOR, NURSE, PSYCHOLOGIST OR SOCIAL WORKER HELP?
These school-based health and mental health professionals can help identify the problem and determine the degree of impact on students and on the school. They should be trained to assess the student’s situation and provide supportive interventions that will assist in the student’s adjustment. School-based health and mental health professionals can determine if additional services may be needed from district, community or military sources and can make those referrals.
Source: Educators Guide to the Military During Deployment
This booklet, sponsored by the Educational Opportunities Directorate of the Department of Defense, is intended to help educators build coping skills in students during and after a military deployment.
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Interested in Professional Development?

Recommended Reading

Soldier Mom

by Alice Mead (for ages 9-12)
A fictional story of a pre-teen girl who takes on additional responsibilities and experiences personal growth, during her mother’s seven-month deployment to Operation Desert Storm.

While You Are Away

by Eileen Spinelli (for pre-school to grade 2)
Three children’s stories of life while their parents are on active military duty abroad, each from a different branch of the armed forces. All three vignettes are upbeat and reassuring, and the book concludes with the safe return of all three loved ones.

 Surviving Deployment: A Guide for Military Families

by Karen Pavlicin
Talks about how to stay together as a family, how to adjust to long absences and uncertain communications, how to overcome the challenges of single-family parenting and new responsibilities, and how to manage financially through a blend of personal stores from hundreds of fellow military families and checklists.

 Channing-Bete

offers an array of publications for service members and their families on topic of deployment including:

  • Let’s Talk About Deployment
  • Information and activity book for children
  • Know What? My Parent is Being Deployed
  • Activity book for ages 6-8
  • Who Knew? The Deployment Issue
  • Activity book for ages 9-11
  • Write from the Heart
  • Stationery kit for military families
 A Very Long Time

by Geri Timperley and Nikki Arro (for ages 4-8)
A book for young children in military families whose loved ones leave for “a very long time”. Written to “help children grasp the meaning of time and generate the tools they need to deal with the separation that might otherwise seem to never end”.

Daddy’s in Iraq, but I Want him Back

by Carmen R. Hoyt
An hour is a long time to a small child. How do you describe the length of a military war deployment to a preschooler? When attempting to tell her son that his Daddy was not going to be gone for just a week or seven wake-ups, but for several months, Carmen Hoyt longed for a better way to lay it out for him. I wished there was a way to help him “get his little arms around” the situation.” Written after the author’s own husband returned safely from Iraq, this story is for pre-school children who have a hard time coping with a parent’s military deployment. “I felt a need for this story to be written when my three year old, Jack, became very insecure upon his father’s deployment to the War in Iraq.”

The Kissing Hand

by Audrey Penn (for ages 4-8)
Published by the Child Welfare League of America, this book is just the right book for any young child confronting a difficult situation or who is temporarily separated from home or loved ones.

 Ned and the General: A Lesson in Deployment

by Ron Madison (for elementary aged children)
A book of stories written in rhyme and based on real children affected by deployment. A copy of the book, of Ned and the General, was sent to each school district, IU, elementary school and elementary level charter school in Pennsylvania. For quantity orders of paperback editions, call the author, Ron Madison, at 814-255-6646.

 Night Catch

by Brenda Ehrmantraut (Author) and Vicki Wehrman (Illustrator)
When a soldier’s work takes him half-way around the world, he enlists the help of the North Star for a nightly game of catch with his son. Night Catch is a timeless story that connects families while they are apart and offers comforting hope for their reunion.