As a parent, being aware of factors that can impact your child’s well-being – even into adulthood – is mission-critical. Research shows that when a child has a secure bond or attachment with their parent or caregiver, they can better manage stress.
Early childhood experiences influence future health and well-being
Research has shown that childhood experiences, both positive and negative, have a significant impact on lifelong health and well-being. A major study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Kaiser Permanente surveyed more than 17,000 Americans to gain a better understanding of how adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, such as divorce, child abuse, neglect, or household dysfunction, might impact individuals as adults. The researchers found that adverse childhood experiences are very common in the general population. In fact, two out of three people have had one adverse childhood experience. However, the greater the number of adverse experiences in childhood, the greater the risk of poor health outcomes, including:
- Risky health behaviors
- Chronic health conditions
- Early death
The study found a strong association between the number of adverse childhood experiences – ranging from emotional, physical and sexual abuse to substance use, mental illness in the home or domestic abuse – during childhood and distinct kinds of diseases that show up in adulthood. This includes cancer, chronic lung disease, ischemic heart disease, skeletal fractures and liver disease, as well as an increased risk of alcoholism, drug abuse and depression. In other words, negative childhood experiences are a contributing factor to serious health issues later in life.
Building family readiness and resilience can help
Fortunately, a positive figure in a child’s life can help to provide stability and security while also reducing the destructive effects of toxic stress. One of the critical roles of the military community is to raise healthy, resilient children despite the stressors and challenges they face. Service members and their families can take advantage of several support systems in place for parents and children alike.
Military OneSource non-medical counseling
Children are eligible to receive confidential non-medical counseling from Military OneSource for issues that include family relationships, school issues, adjustment to deployment or separation, and grief and loss. The eligibility requirements vary by the age of the child.
Child and youth behavioral military and family life counselors
Child and youth behavioral military and family life counselors are assigned within youth and teen centers, child development centers, and schools. Counselors are available to meet with military children and their families to discuss everything from self-esteem issues to life skills, such as problem solving and anger management. Visit your installation’s Military and Family Support Center for more information.
A mentor is an adult your child trusts, admires and respects, who provides support and guidance and is actively involved in your child’s life. Look for a mentor for your child in your faith community, check out the National Mentoring Partnership for formal programs in your area or contact your installation’s youth program to find out if there are any programs available on your installation. Click here for other ideas.
Connecting to the military community
The military community is also a parenting community. Many of the people in your unit, your job or in your chain of command are parents, too. By reaching out to them you build a network of support and benefit from their insights and experiences – both similar and different from yours. Connecting with neighbors, coworkers and other people in your community reminds you that you are not in this alone.
It is everyone’s responsibility to ensure the safety and well-being of military children. Family harmony is directly related to military readiness and resilience. It’s much easier to prevent a potential problem than to deal with one after the fact. By tapping into support systems and taking action to prevent toxic levels of stress in the home, you can help your child build a resiliency that will shape their life in the years to come and protect them from health risks.
Article reviewed by CPT Benjamin Samuel Telsey, MD/MPH, FAAP, Pediatrics