I watched the little boy stand outside his kindergarten classroom as he clutched his Daddy Doll Dadd(a plush flat doll with a full body picture of Daddy in uniform) to his chest; he wore a look that dared anyone to try and make him put it away. “His daddy just deployed,” a teacher leaned over and whispered in my ear, nodding at the frowning child. My heart went out to him. I knew his world was falling apart.
April is the Month of the Military Child. It’s the time we set aside to salute those who support their country without choice…but do so bravely and with fervor.
As a military spouse, I had a say in the life I live. I chose to marry a man I knew wanted to join the military. I agreed to follow him wherever he goes, and to carry on for him when he is told to deploy. Military children, however, don’t have that choice. Their parents deploy whether they’re okay with it or not. Their parents work strange hours and move them all over the world whether the children want them to or not. The children are part of the support system that moves our servicemembers forward, whether the children want to be or not. ‘
And yet, from my experience with military children, they’re some of our military members’ biggest fans.
Still, deployments and TDYs (temporary duty assignments away from home, often for months at a time) can leave military children with lots of anxiety. Will Daddy miss my birthday party? Will Daddy see any of my baseball games this season? Will Mommy get to take me to any dance practices? How will Daddy tuck me in? Will Mommy still love me if she’s gone for a long time? Will Daddy be safe?
Children can also feel set apart from their classmates, particularly if there aren’t many military children who attend their schools or extracurricular activities. It’s easy to feel alone when you think no one else understands you. No one knows why your father missed Daddies and Doughnuts this year. They probably won’t understand why military children feel resentful or upset because they don’t understand what it’s like to have a parent sent a million miles away, and who can’t make a phone call every night.
It’s important to help military children understand that they’re not alone, and to encourage them in their support for their parents. They need to understand that their parents will never stop loving them, no matter how far away they go. They need to see that their efforts to love their parents in return aren’t in vain, and books can be a great way to do that.
I wrote an article a few weeks ago listing 9 ways we can support military families during deployment. This time, I’m going to review three children’s books about deployment that can be used to help elementary school children of all ages. These books can also be used as jumping points for conversation starters, helping children talk about the anxiety they might be feeling during a deployment.
A Paper Hug – by Stephanie Skolmoski
A little boy’s father is going to deploy, so the boy and his mother decide to create a care package for Dad. The little boy wants to put something special in for his father, but he doesn’t know what to do. Suddenly, he gets an idea! He has his mother help him create a paper strip with cutouts of his hands attached at each end, exactly the length of his arms. This way, he knows, his father can have a hug from him anytime he wants.
The boy has to wait a long time for his father to come home. He misses him, and doesn’t get to talt to him very much on the phone, but is comforted, knowing he sent his father a hug. Finally, when it’s time for his father to come home, his father tells him that he kept the paper hug in his pocket with him wherever he went. Most importantly, his father never stopped loving him.
What I love about this book is that it doesn’t send the message that a deployment will be easy. The little boy cries, and he misses his father all the time, but in the end, he finds that love can span oceans. And his father never stops loving him, something I think children might be tempted to think while their parents are far away. It’s a simple read, perhaps on the level of a first or second grader, but a younger child would greatly enjoy it.
Hero Dad – by Melinda Hardin
This little boy has a hero, but it’s not the hero one sees in the cartoons. His hero doesn’t have x-ray vision, rocket-propelled boots, or a fancy costume. His hero does, however, have night-vision goggles, combat boots, and he wears camouflage. This little boy is proud of his hero.
This is a very simple book, and while the vocabulary is on a second grade reading level, the content is geared toward a much younger crowd.
The simplicity, however, is part of what makes it a great book for children who don’t sit still very well. The pictures are beautiful, and give military children an idea of why their parents are special, how much they work to keep their children safe. The book is geared toward the combat side of the military, so it might not be as fitting for particular jobs, but I think all military children can enjoy it. No matter what job a servicemember has, that job contributes to the good of his brothers and sisters-in-arms, and he has given an oath to protect the United States with his life. He or she deserves to be called a hero.
Children often automatically assume that when someone leaves them, it’s because that person didn’t want to be around them. This book, however, helps explain that parents in the military aren’t leaving because they don’t like their children; they’re leaving to protect the world. Seeing a parent as a hero can make it easier for children to accept the absence because they know the purpose of the absence is noble. And children love noble heroes.
The Impossible Patriotism Project – by Linda Skeers
Caleb has just been assigned a school project that requires him to create something that shows patriotism. Caleb’s classmates seem to be having fun with the assignment. From those who want to dress up like the statue of liberty to those who make maps, everyone seems to know what he or she is doing…except Caleb. Caleb wishes his father was there. He would know what to do.
“Patriotism wasn’t something you could draw, like a tree or a spaceship or a crocodile.” – The Impossible Patriotism Project
But sadly, Caleb’s father is in a desert far away serving in the military. Suddenly, remember where his father is gives Caleb an idea. Caleb realizes that even in his unique situation, his father is showing his own version of patriotism, something no one else in the class thinks about until Caleb brings in his display the next day….
This book is probably on the reading level of a third grader, but the content will appeal to older children, too. Children generally develop understanding of abstract concepts when they’re about eight, which is usually when they’re in third grade. Abstract concepts are those that can’t be touched or seen, something Caleb discovers. This is a great book for all children because it not only touches on deployment, but it also makes them consider how they would represent an abstract concept, such as patriotism or liberty or freedom or faith.
Caleb’s father is deployed, which means he’s not available to help Caleb with his homework, something sorely felt by many children whose parents are gone. However, like many children who have deployed parents, Caleb understands a true abstract concept a more deeply than his peers. He realizes that the epitomy of patriotism is doing what his father has done, leaving the comforts of home and family to protect them all. And this is what his project is ultimately about. There’s even a touching picture at the end of the book where we get to see a glimpse of Caleb’s father seeing with joy what Caleb has done.
Showing We Care
Children of military parents experience many hardships other children don’t understand. However, they also get to experience a greater part of the world than most other children their ages. Our job as educators, parents, and vested community members, is to let them know we care. We care that they can list all the states and countries they’ve lived in by the time they’re in third grade (as well as all those in which their siblings were born). We care they feel alone. We care that they feel anxious. And we want to support them.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of books for military children. These are just some gems I’ve come across, and I hope you’ll enjoy them, too. If you’re interested in more books for military children, please sign up for my email list, and I’ll be sending out more resources on this topic for Saturday. Also, please don’t hestitate to leave a comment below, or to contact me with questions, information, or stories you’d like to share. I’d love to hear from you! Thanks again for reading!
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