Fostering Belonging with Military Families
Build stronger connections between civilian and military families with the NEW Nature BINGO from Healthier Generation and Blue Star Families.
April is the Month of the Military Child, and this year Healthier Generation has teamed up with Blue Star Families to bring greater awareness to the experiences of military children and the value they bring to our classrooms and communities. We’ve collaborated on a new Nature BINGO game as one way to boost connections among military families and their communities. Play Nature BINGO!
Today, there are over 2 million children of active-duty US service members, National Guard Reserve, and military veterans. On average, military families move every two to three years. This means that by the time a military child graduates from high school, they may have moved 10 or more times and attended anywhere from six to nine different schools.
A recent survey of active-duty military families by Blue Star Families revealed that:
- 44% of respondents do not feel a sense of belonging in their local civilian community
- 43% of respondents rate at least one of their child’s mental health as “fair,” “poor,” or “very poor”
- 8 in 10 respondents have been separated from their family/service member in the past 18 months due to military service
“The high tempo of training, deployments, schools, etc. takes a toll on the family bonds and connections. Consistent disruptions cause distress among family members, especially children.”
— Active-Duty Marine Corps Spouse
Frequent relocation can have both positive outcomes and drawbacks for military families. Many military children get opportunities to experience other cultures, increasing their knowledge of the world. They also build resiliency and adaptability. However, repeatedly being "new" to a community can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness and have a negative impact of mental health and academic engagement. Additionally, youth development is greatly influenced by the adults around young people, and many military children experience months-long separation from a parent.
How can we support military children in our communities?
Growing up in a military family can be difficult, but when we surround children with an open and caring community, we can create more opportunities to improve how they feel, learn, and connect.
Here are some tips from Blue Star Families and Healthier Generation to get you started:
1. Check in with your assumptions and beliefs about military life and military families.
When we take the time to acknowledge and unlearn assumptions and stereotypes, it’s easier to get to know military children and their families as individual people. This will help you build relationships as neighbors, friends, and members of a community.
2. Know who the military kids are in your school and neighborhood and make a point to connect with them.
Being part of a military family is only one aspect of a child's identity. Like any child, military kids have a wide range of interests, ideas, and experiences. Get to know your military neighbors for who they are both within and outside the context of their military identity. Check out our identity mapping activity from Kohl’s Healthy at Home for fun way to learn about each other.
3. Read and share books on military life, especially books that center the experiences of children.
Add books like Night Catch by Brenda Ehrmantraut and When You Are Away by Dominique James Ed.D. to your school or home library. Incorporate books like these into story time so that civilian and military kids alike can learn more about military life.
Joining or starting a book club for military and civilian families in your area is a great way to make friends, swap book recommendations, and share your thoughts. This list from Growing Book by Book includes several options for young readers about what it’s like to move somewhere new.
4. Include military families in your favorite activities.
Try the new Nature BINGO game from Blue Star Families and Healthier Generation! Invite military families to join fun community-building activities, like hosting neighborhood games, joining community-service projects, and creating collaborative art.
Play Nature Bingo!
Check out these resources for more ideas to build connections with your community!
- Sharing Our Stories: Family Conversations for Social-Emotional Health
- How Schools Can Help Military Children - Blue Star Families
How will you support military children in your community? Share photos of you, your family, and community playing Nature BINGO on Instagram and Twitter at @HealthierGen and @BlueStarFamilies for a chance to be featured!
Discover more family-friendly resources that support whole-child health at KohlsHealthyAtHome.org and Kohl’s Healthy at Home en español.
Blue Star Families. (2022). 2021 Military Family Lifestyle Survey Comprehensive Report. Retrieved from: https://bluestarfam.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/BSF_MFLS_Results2021_ComprehensiveReport_03_14.pdf.
Blue Star Families. (2022). 2021 Military Family Lifestyle Survey Comprehensive Infographic. Retrieved from: https://bluestarfam.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/BSF_Comp_Infographic_MFLS2021_03_10.pdf.