Military children are used to dealing with transition in their lives. From parental deployments to friends relocating, military life can be a lot for a child to handle. That’s why the Defense Department offers a number of programs that put the mental health of military children at the forefront.
Air Force Maj. Michael Detweiler, a child psychologist assigned to the Air Force Medical Operations Agency, said monitoring the mental and behavioral health of military children is so important because military dependents have to say more significant goodbyes than the average child.
“We are a volunteer force. Service members volunteer, but their families get drafted,” said Detweiler.
For kids, that can mean disruptions to the family through deployments or parents who return home with invisible wounds.
Detweiler encourages parents to get to know their children’s teachers in order to stay updated.
“One of the easiest ways to check on a child is to have a good working relationship with their teachers. Teachers have a good frame of reference, and they are also working with your kids for a significant portion of the day,” said Detweiler.
Sudden, unexplainable declines in grades and significant changes in behavior like isolation or social withdrawal are also indicators that your child may be experiencing mental health issues.
Having friends is another thing that’s important, Detweiler said.
“Social support is what we call a protective factor for a number of mental health conditions. Children are in a state of development, and they use social interaction and peers for modeling to learn social coping skills,” he explained.
Parents should get to know their children’s friends and be aware of any sudden changes in those friendships, like suddenly taking on new friends who may engage in risky behavior.
The DoD offers programs to help the mental health of military children. Detweiler noted two in particular. The Exceptional Family Member Program looks at a child’s all-around needs to ensure the family is not placed in a location where there would be a lack of services.
The other, Educational & Development Intervention Services, is a “multidisciplinary program that’s designed to identify unique needs in young children and make sure [the military] provides federally-mandated services in the schools outside of the U.S.,” he said.
Youth centers at local installations offer many options for children as well, and military chaplains can be helpful as a resource. Detweiler said parents who believe their children need help should contact their primary care manager for assistance.
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