April is Month of the Military Child, during which military children are recognized for the sacrifices they make by being a part of a military family. These children face a number of daunting challenges: the stress that accompanies the separation from a deployed parent, the anxiety of worrying for that parent, or living with the fear that a parent has been killed.
“These children bravely accept the sacrifice of lost time with their military parents, And they have to accept the possibility that this separation could become permanent,” explains Michael Priser, a school psychologist at Vilseck High School in Germany and vice-president (and former president) of the Federal Education Association, the NEA affiliate representing educators in the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) school system. “All students face challenges but what these kids deal with is very unique.”
Priser discovered earlier this year, however, that sometimes the most effective and lasting support for children of deployed parents can come from their more experienced counterparts. Last year, Priser first met with his “deployment group,” a group of students at Vilseck High with deployed parents. The students politely asked Priser why they were brought in.
“They had already been through deployment quite a few times. This was old hat to them,” Priser said. ”So they were wondering ‘What’s this all about? Why are we here?’
As it turned out, these students didn’t really need any additional advice or counsel but were interested in sharing their experiences with and supporting younger kids who might be new to deployment.
After some brainstorming, Priser and the group settled on creating a coloring book that younger children could use as a guide to help them navigate through the complex feelings, anxieties, and challenges of being children of deployed parents.
The group worked quickly and produced a coloring book divided into four sections, each encompassing an aspect of deployment – staying connected, sharing feelings, how to help the parent at home, and reintegration. In each section, the students in the deployment group created black and white drawings for the elementary students to color.
In February, the deployment group met with counselors and school psychologists at Vilseck Elementary School and presented the finished product. ”I think this is a valuable thing so that our kids know that someone else has been through this,” said Glen Cella, Vilseck Elementary School psychologist.
Other DoDEA schools have expressed interest and Priser would like to put the coloring book online so parents, children and mental health professionals could use it as a tool in their deployment kits.
“The coloring book is valuable addition to the resources because positive presented in a positive way,” explains Priser. “Elementary children respond to that, and the fact that it was created for them by older kids who know what they are going through also makes it very special.”