Barbara Thompson, Director, Office of Family Policy/Children and Youth, Office of the Secretary of Defense (Military Community and Family Policy)
Our military children are strong and resilient. From a very young age, they face challenges many other children do not, including frequent moves, school transitions, and tough goodbyes. Through all of this, they demonstrate maturity and wisdom—helping out at home during deployments, doing well in school, and much more. However, the military lifestyle can take its toll on our children’s health and well-being and it’s important that we provide families with the right resources to support their children through difficult times.
Positive mental health is essential to a child’s development and on May 9th, we draw attention to this important issue by recognizing Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day, part of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) “Caring for Every Child’s Mental Health” initiative, which seeks to increase awareness about the importance of children’s mental health and to stimulate support services. This year, the focus will be on the impact of trauma on children and youth and how we can help our children build resilience to it.
Around the country, communities are holding Awareness Day events, such as youth rallies, social media campaigns, art projects, and music/dance-related activities. Think about the best way for you to recognize this important day! You can find a current listing of events for this year on the SAMHSA website. If you don’t see anything in your area, check with your local installation family center or plan your own event! Materials for planning something fun are available, including tips for service providers on using art, music, and dance to help children solve problems, cope with stress, and make new friends.
The DoD understands that it takes more than just one day to make a real impact. Through the Office of Family Policy/Children and Youth, we work hard to provide our children and their families with the resources they need all year around. DoD Child Development and Youth Programs are available at every installation for children from birth to 12th grade and provide great opportunities for children to develop their social and emotional skills, as well as interact with other children in similar situations. Parents can also access Children and Youth Behavioral Counselors for non-medical counseling services to help them deal with the challenges associated with the military lifestyle. If you are interested in great take home resources, check out the DoD’s Guide for Helping Children and Youth Cope with Separation or the Sesame Workshop’s Talk, Listen, Connect kits, which provide activities for kids and parents on managing deployments, combat-related injuries, and the death of a loved one. Military Youth on the Move and Military Kids Connect are wonderful websites designed specifically to help military children connect with one another, get helpful advice, and read interesting articles about deployments, relocations, school-related issues, and much more. Fostering positive mental health and development is essential and we can do this by providing families with a network of effective services and supports.
We know that our military children are strong. They have served alongside their parents for generations. We owe it to them to do our part in helping them enjoy a healthy and happy childhood.