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Five Things Every Teacher Should Know About Children from Military Families
Maggie Stewart
University of Saint Mary

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In order to ascertain what teachers can do to best support students from military families
and help them to be well-adjusted, high achieving students, teachers need to be aware of the
challenges students face due to military involvement. These challenges include parental
deployment and return from service, new school environments, variance in socioeconomic status
leading to financial struggles, and lack of community support. Through being aware of these
challenges, teachers can help students from military families to reach their full potential.

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The children of military servicemen and women experience a variety of challenges,
changes, and experiences throughout their growing up years due to family relocations and
parental deployments. Not only do these changes and experiences affect a childs emotional and
social development, they can affect his or her learning as well. No matter where a teacher is, he
or she should be prepared to meet the needs of students from military families and to celebrate
the diversity they bring to the classroom. A teacher can do this by being aware of five key things
about military children.
Probably the most severe challenge that children from military families have to face is
parental deployment; that parents return from service can also be just as challenging. Thus,
teachers should be aware of parental deployments and returns from service in order to be
prepared for challenges in the classroom and support the student and family. Children often
experience serious stress and anxiety when a parent is deployed. In addition to general stress and
worry about his or her parent, the child may experience serious changes at home (Lester 2013).
For example, during a parental deployment, the other parent and the rest of the family often
switch roles to adjust to the absence, which causes many changes in the functioning of the family
system (Aronson 2011). Also, unfortunately military children are most likely to be abused or
neglected when a parent is deployed (Aronson 2011). All these family stresses can affect the
childs behavior at school, which may become more aggressive and disruptive, or more
withdrawn and antisocial; it can also cause a decrease in academic achievement and motivation
(Lester 2013). Then, when the parent returns home from service, the transition is often not easy
or smooth. Many military personnel return home from service with deep physical or, more often,
emotional and psychological scars from their experiences, which affect their relationships with
their spouses and children; they also often find that their families have adapted and changed

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while they were away, and these changes make it difficult on both the military spouse/ parent and
the rest of the family to reunite (Aronson 2011). Teachers need to be understanding that children
could be dealing with high levels of emotional stress during both of these periods. Therefore,
teachers should be compassionate, available to listen to students problems, observant of possible
warning signs of serious issues such as abuse, and prepared to refer children and families for
professional help and resources if needed. Also, activities in the classroom such as making cards
for a deployed parent can help comfort the student during that time.
Another thing military families need especially during transfers, deployments and returns,
but also throughout their whole time involved in the military is community support (Hoshmand
2007). As mentioned in the previous paragraph, military families often experience tension and
stress in those times of change. Supportive neighbors and community members who can help
care for children, provide extracurricular experiences for them, and offer guidance and
companionship to both military and civilian parents are very important to the life of a military
family (Hoshmand 2007). A teacher can help by being prepared to refer families to different
resources and groups for support. This is especially important in a city that is not particularly
near a military base, in which a military family might feel isolated and like there is not a
community for them. Teachers can also help by staying involved in their communities outside of
the classroom; while it is probably safer for teachers to maintain boundaries with students and
their families outside of school, rather than being involved with them in the larger context of the
community, teachers can pay it forward by volunteering for activities and groups that include
none of their own students,
Teachers always need to be self-aware of biases and generalizations of different groups of
students. One particular stereotype that teachers need to avoid when teaching the children of

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military members is that military families are financially secure. Many military service members
are paid well and receive substantial benefits for their families; however, not all do. (Hosek
2013). In their study published in Future of Children, Hosek and MacDermid Wadsworth found
that while military families fincancial wellbeing has improved in the past decade due to higher
pay and increased non-cash benefits, some military families are still struggling financially,
especially larger families of lower-ranked officers (Hosek 2013). Also, even a military family
who earns a higher salary may have other financial obstacles associated with military
involvement, such as a civilian spouses difficulty finding a job when the military spouse is
transferred, or costs associated with moving or travel (Hosek 2013). Therefore, teachers cannot
stereotype a familys socioeconomic status based on their military involvement or assume that
they are not struggling financially. The teacher should take time to get to know the student and
family, and be willing to listen if the family is dealing with any financial concerns. He or she
should not assume that the military students family will be comfortable paying extra expenses or
buying extra materials for the classroom, or that they have access to technology or other
educational means outside of school. This applies to all students, but military students can easily
be generalized as coming from financially secure families.
Another fact teachers need to be aware of about students from military families is the
variety of schools the student may have attended before the present one. It is very well-known
that most children from military families have experienced several parent transfers and moves
during their childhood, which is often a very stressful experience. These students have dealt with
the stress of leaving everything they have known in one area behind and becoming familiar with
a new part of the country or world. Social anxiety due to going to a new school and making new
friends can also make it very hard for a student to achieve academically; also, the student has to

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adapt not only to new classmates and teachers, but also to a whole new school environment
(Aronson 2011). Therefore, the teacher should ask the parents and student about the schools he
or she attended previously to gather information about those learning climates. The teacher also
needs to carefully assess the students learning levels and differentiate accordingly, since he or
she may have come from a high achieving school and need more advanced work, or from an
academically lower school and need special scaffolding techniques. The teachers main goal is to
help the student adjust to a new school, and to differentiate in whatever way is necessary to make
that transition smooth.
Lastly, despite the potential challenges they will face and problems they will have to do
their parents military service, it is important for teachers to remember that the military
experiences is not necessarily negative on the whole. Children from military families come into
the classroom with a wide variety of experiences; as discussed in the previous paragraph, just
because a student is new to an area and school does not mean he or she is a blank slate. Teachers
can support students with military backgrounds by allowing them opportunities to share their
previous experiences, such as through a project. If the opportunity presents itself in reading,
social studies, or any other content area, teachers can get military students engaged by
connecting to their past experiences and the places they have lived. It would also be a good idea
for teachers to invite students to represent the places they come from in the classroom.
Children from military families come to new schools with a variety of experiences,
previous homes, challenges, and stresses. By being prepared to help students face emotionally
stressful changes and events, such as frequent moves and parental deployment, teachers can help
students to be confident, make and maintain friendships, behave in school, reach high academic
goals, and respond positively to issues in the home. Students from military families are a diverse

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group who can succeed with the proper care and differentiation, and they have a lot to offer their
class if they are given the proper support and understanding.

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Aronson, K. R., Caldwell, L. L., Perkins, D. F., & Pasch, K. W. (2011). Assisting Children and
Families with Military-Related Disruptions: The United States Marine Corps School
Liaison Program. Psychology In The Schools, 48(10), 998-1015.
Hosek, J., & MacDermid Wadsworth, S. (2013). Economic Conditions of Military
Families. Future Of Children, 23(2), 41-59.
Hoshmand, L. T., & Hoshmand, A. L. (2007). Support for Military Families and
Communities. Journal Of Community Psychology,35(2), 171-180.
Lester, P., & Flake, E. (2013). How Wartime Military Service Affects Children and
Families. Future Of Children, 23(2), 121-141.