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Give military kids special attention
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Spouses of military personnel have much to consider when talking to their children about deployment and other war issues.
Louise Davis, a Mississippi State University Extension Service child and family development specialist, said parents should strive to understand their children's emotions and take the appropriate steps to give them a sense of security while the well-being of a parent or other family member is uncertain.
"While many parents think totally shielding their children from information about violence or conflict is the best route, this can actually cause children to keep their feelings inside," Davis said. "When parents initiate open discussion of events, children understand that they can talk about their fears and concerns."
Keep children with parents serving in the military informed of current events impacting their families, but avoid overexposure to news coverage. Access to reliable news sources will provide accurate information without causing excessive worry for children and parents.
Another important issue parents should consider is the confusing nature of wartime events. Often difficult even for adults to understand, children may need help differentiating, for example, between Afghanistan and Iraq, or Osama bin Laden and Sadaam Hussein.
"Children who suddenly begin hearing about countries and people they have never thought about before may have a hard time understanding the issues and how those issues affect them and their families," Davis said. Children may also confuse fantasy with reality and historic events and figures with current ones, or connect unrelated current events.
With the constant television news exposure to war events, children may confuse real violence with Hollywood violence. It also may be difficult for children exposed to excessive media violence to recognize the difference between fact and fiction, and to understand the reality of war.
"Parents can help children feel secure by providing close contact and spending extra time with them. For instance, taking a few extra moments putting children to bed at night can help ease their concerns," Davis said. "Parents need to continually respond to their children's needs and repeatedly assure them they are loved and their feelings are important."
The at-home parent in a military family should pay attention to and note any changes in a child's behavior, such as lashing out in anger or frustration, becoming quiet and withdrawn, retreating to behaviors shown at a younger age, exhibiting symptoms of illness or refusing to be out of the parent's sight. When children exhibit such behaviors, they usually are craving attention, Davis said.
"Seek the help of a professional counselor if you feel your child's stress reaches a crisis level," she said. "While nightmares, new fears, shock, anxiety, helplessness, sleeplessness, regression or depression are normal for children with a deployed parent, your child may need extra help if these behaviors continue for more than one month."
Encourage older children to develop their own opinions about current issues, and avoid forcing parental views on them. Exploring the issues and options available to the United States and other governments will give children a more realistic picture of world events.
Log onto MSUcares.com for a list of Internet sites with tips for talking to children about war and other crisis events.