Military families don’t always let others know about their military-connected identity, and many professionals who focus on the wellness of babies and toddlers don’t think to ask. With an estimated 22 million veterans and active duty service members within the United States, chances are that about 8% of the families you serve are military-connected (Department of Veterans Affairs, 2017). Why is it important to know whether the families you serve are military-connected? The same reason it is important to know about a family’s cultural identity! Military-connected families have a unique set of values and experiences that influence how they see the world. When working to engage a family, or thinking about how best to support their needs, knowing more about their culture and background makes it easier to honor their unique strengths and value their perspectives. It also is important to understand how the military experience might influence family dynamics. Of course, all of this influences how a child is parented and supported.
April is the Month of the Military Child. This time honors the children of our military families who serve through the sacrifices they make every day. Many military babies are born while their fathers are deployed or away for training. Many babies and toddlers grow up far away from their extended families because of the constant relocation service members deal with, so they don’t have grandpa and grandma to play with them regularly, or an aunt and uncle to help with child care. And, given the physical and psychological injuries that many service members have endured over the past few decades, some babies are born to mothers and fathers who are learning to parent at the same time that they’re learning to live with visible or invisible wounds.
Perhaps the best way to honor these babies, toddlers, and other children in military-connected families is to ensure that professionals are knowledgeable of the rich traditions and complex culture of service men and women. ZERO TO THREE has developed a variety of material to support professionals in learning about the military and veteran family experience, as well as valuable resources you can share with both the active duty and veteran families you support.
Honoring Our Babies and Toddlers: A Guide for Caring Professionalso is one resource you can access for free on ZERO TO THREE’s website. It focuses on supporting young children affected by their parents’ injury or death. With two versions, one for serving veteran parents and one for those serving active duty military, professionals will learn about life in the military, about invisible injuries and the impact on a young child, and about supporting a child when a parent dies. It includes resources for referring families for additional support. There are companion resource booklets for professionals to share with families, one addressing parental injury and one addressing parental death. These are also available in Spanish.
Many parents have indicated they like to get their information through quick, informational apps. Military and veteran parents are no different. Babies on the Homefront is a mobile app developed by ZERO TO THREE and available for free on iTunes and Google Play for phones and tablets. Available in both English and Spanish, it allows parents—and the professionals supporting them—to access information based on the child’s age and the parent’s status (at home, leaving soon, deployed, home again, or veteran). It includes behavior tips to help parents think about what their child’s behavior is telling them, suggested everyday activities as well as activities for staying connected or reconnecting with a service member parent, and ideas to foster parental self-care. The app is filled with quick tips, videos, and even a place for parents to add photos of their young child. Learn more about this app at www.babiesonthehomefront.org.
ZERO TO THREE has many more resources and articles on supporting military and veteran babies, toddlers, and their families. You can learn more at https://www.zerotothree.org/parenting/military-and-veteran-families-support. For resources for military-connected families in Spanish, learn more at https://www.zerotothree.org/resources/series/cero-a-tres-recursos-en-espanol
Department of Veteran Affairs. (2017). Profile of veterans: 2015 data from the American Community Survey. National Center for Veterans analysis and Statistics. Retrieved from https://www.va.gov/vetdata/docs/SpecialReports/Profile_of_Veterans_2015.pdf