Social and Emotional Needs
Military-connected children live a lifestyle where relocation, loss, and change are ever-present. The experience of relocation is further complicated for many children by the uncertainty of a parent being deployed or returning with a physical and/or psychological injury. According to a report on school connectedness prepared by the Military Child Initiative, when students feel connected to their school, they believe that adults in the school care about them and their learning.1 School Liaisons can improve school connectedness by helping parents and teachers understand the importance of and encourage
- high academic rigor and expectations,
- support for learning,
- positive adult-student relationships, and
- an environment of physical and emotional safety.
Research has shown that school-connected students are more likely to succeed, exhibiting positive behavior and avoiding risky behavior.
Today an increasing number of military families experience the added stress of multiple deployments and longer tours of duty. According to the Educator’s Guide to the Military Child During Deployment when military families are returning from a tour of duty overseas, the “culture shock” upon returning to the U.S. can be very real and significantly impact the life of their children; family connectedness can suffer and exacerbate the unsettling experience of relocating to a new school.2
A report entitled Children on the Homefront: The Experiences of Children From Military Families found that across all age groups, children from military families reported significantly higher levels of emotional difficulties than children in the general population. In addition, about one-third of the military-connected children surveyed for the report cited symptoms of anxiety. The types of problems that children reported varied by age and gender. Older students had more difficulties with school and more problem behaviors such as fighting, while younger students reported more symptoms of anxiety. Girls had fewer problems in school and with friends but reported more anxiety than boys.3
Social and emotional needs can appear directly in the form of behavior and reactions that parents and teachers may observe in military-connected children. It is helpful for parents and schools to contact one another when they observe students exhibiting signs of social and/or emotional distress. A report prepared by the Virginia Joint Military Family Services Board entitled Working With Military Children: A Primer for School Personnel offers important social and emotional signs to watch for by age group:4
In preschool or kindergarten children, families and teachers might observe
- clinginess to people or a favorite object or toy;
- unexplained crying or tearfulness;
- changes in relationship with same-age friends;
- choosing adults over same-age friends;
- increased acts of aggression toward people or things;
- shrinking away from people or things;
- sleep difficulties (nightmares, frequent waking);
- regression, such as toilet accidents, thumb sucking, etc.;
- eating difficulties; or
- fear of new people or situations.
In school-age children, families and teachers might observe
- any of the signs exhibited by younger children and
- a rise in complaints about pain or illnesses when nothing seems to be wrong;
- increased irritability;
- increase in school problems such as a drop in grades, an unwillingness to attend school, or odd complaints about school and/or teachers; or
- behavior changes.
In teens, families and teachers might observe any of the signs exhibited by younger and school-age children. Also, military-connected teens in particular want communities—school communities and otherwise—to know what they are going through. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network states that those at a high risk for stress include youth who have endured multiple deployments and those who do not live close to military communities and do not have the same level of access to or support from installation services. With the support and direction of School Liaisons, schools can provide support and referrals, beginning by identifying impacted students and reaching out directly to their families to understand their unique needs.
1. Blum, R. (2005). School connectedness: Improving the lives of students. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
2. Educator’s guide to the military child during deployment. (n.d.).
3. Castaneda, L. W., Harrell, M. C., Varda, D. M., Hall, K.C., Beckett, M. K., & Stern, S. (2008). Deployment experiences of Guard and Reserve families: Implication for support and retention.
4. Virginia Joint Military Family Services Board. (2003). Working with military children: A primer for school personnel.