Children of military personnel experience unique challenges that can have a significant impact on their wellbeing.
We have listened to military families and educators in our research, who felt isolated and ignored due to the lack of age-appropriate Australian resources to assist their children. In our 2021 study of defence partners who had young children, 61 per cent said they did not feel confident to support their children with the stresses of military family life.
The recently released Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide Interim Report also highlighted the mental health risk to the children, partners and siblings of military personnel:
… military deployment, as well as the mental and behavioural disorders arising from military service, can then increase the risk that partners, spouses, children and siblings develop mental health disorders … children of personnel with PTSD may also experience ‘secondary traumatization’ and exhibit similar symptoms of PTSD as their parents. (p 94)
In our research, parents – and educators who work with military children – said their children were struggling with:
- parents working away (training and deployment)
- frequent family transitions (including transitioning from defence to civilian life)
- frequent relocations
- parents who had service-related physical and/or mental health conditions.
To address these issues we have co-created 12 new, free, online, research-based children’s storybooks and apps as part of a specially formed Early Childhood Defence Programs research team, along with stakeholders and experts in the field.
Most are from the perspective of children, and they support families, educators and professionals to understand the social, physical, emotional and cognitive (learning) responses children may experience. They offer strategies for children to express and interpret their feelings and build resilience using a strengths-based approach.
From researching military family experiences, we expanded the suite of free resources to include other situations where a parent might work away for a prolonged period, such as fly-in fly-out and drive-in drive out workers or emergency personnel.
And, while time away from a parent is hard, coping with their reintegration into the family can be harder when family life has changed during a parent’s long absence. The books and resources address all these changes and challenges.
Each downloadable, printable children’s storybook has accompanying educational activities. These include read-along audio and video recordings and other educational activities (puzzles, puppets, matching and sorting activities, sequencing and storytelling activities, card games and board games).
Some of the books also have downloadable activity books for children to personalise the story, Key Word Sign read-alongs and interactive elements. Some books are suitable for toddlers, some for preschoolers and others are for the early years of primary school.
Apart from the books, we have designed suites of research-based learning modules to improve community and practitioner knowledge about military families and gain skills and confidence to better support them.
There are also three books especially for children whose parents have given their health in service (military) or at work (first responders). They are not suitable for all children, just those who have experienced this in their family.
Armed with these new resources, we hope that children see they are not alone in what they are experiencing, educators and parents feel better supported, and there is greater community awareness and empathy for the challenges faced by children in military families or with a parent who works away.
Our resources are free due to generous funding from The Ian Potter Foundation, the University of New England and the Association of Graduates of Early Childhood Studies.
They are available from ecdefenceprograms.com