~ By Jonathan Kirkendall, MA, LPC
April is Month of the Military Child. And too often, our surviving military children don't feel like they are part of this community of kids any longer. Here are some ideas for how to honor your surviving military children this month (and every month) to help them know they are part of this family and worth celebrating.
1. Let them know that April is Month of the Military Child. This month was established to underscore the important role children and youth play in the Armed Forces community. This month reminds us that for every active duty member, there is a family that stands behind him or her.
2. Talk to them about their loved one. Sometimes, people are afraid that if they bring up a loved one who has died, it will make the person sad - but in fact, giving a child an opportunity to talk about their loved one is often a life-giving gift.
Use the loved one's name - that teaches the child that this is not a taboo subject. The good people at The Dougy Center write, "Sharing a memory has a similar effect. It also reminds the child that the person who died will continue to 'live on' and impact the lives of those left behind."
Ask them to tell you about their loved one. Don't know where to start? Ask them about a favorite memory.
3. Create a memory box with your child. This is something we do at TAPS Good Grief Camp, and it's appropriate for kids of all ages. Sitting with them as they create a keeper of memories, figuring out how to personalize the outside and what to put on the inside, helps a child give meaning to what has happened. YouthLight provides helpful directions for making a memory box and other activities.
4. Let them grieve without judgment. Don't tell them how to feel. Don't tell them to move on. Don't tell them you know how they feel. It is so healing to let them describe what they are going through. You can double the healing impact by reflecting it back to them: "It sounds like you're having a hard time…" "It sounds like you really miss her…" "You sound angry that you have to go through all these changes…"
5. Help them take a break from grief. Play, party, dance and sing. Kids need to take a break from the overwhelming feelings of grief in order to heal. How much fun it would be for a surviving military kid to hear you say, "April is the Month of the Military Child, and you know what? We're going to go have fun on Saturday and see that movie you've been wanting to see and then go out to eat, just to celebrate you!"
What ideas do you have? Let us know how you celebrate your military kid this month in the comments below.
From the pen of…
Jonathan Kirkendall has been with TAPS since 2006 when his nephew was deployed to Iraq. Looking for a meaningful way to support the troops, he contacted TAPS and two weeks later found himself leading a group of 11-year-olds at the 2006 National Military Survivor Seminar. He now serves as the Manager of Youth Programs.