VA Offers Free, Online Parenting Resource to Help You Survive the Break & Beyond
by Michelle Sherman, Guest Contributor
For most children, summer is a time of absolute freedom: no more teachers, books or tests. Summertime is filled with long days at the pool, playing at the park and memorable vacations.
Although your children may be excited about their break, you may feel overwhelmed. Adjusting to new schedules, shuttling them to various outdoor activities or finding child care, there are many reasons that summer can be stressful on parents.
As a military parent, you may face additional stress or unique challenges beyond these every day parenting struggles. While a parent is deployed, your children may exhibit aggression or act out. Upon the parent’s return, some children may not be used to listening and being disciplined by returning parents and younger children might not even recognize their parent.
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in conjunction with the Department of Defense created Parenting for Service Members and Veterans (Parenting), a free online resource to meet the unique needs of military and veteran families. However, much of the information is useful for all families. The course provides practical tools and tips to overcome common parenting challenges and strengthen your family.
Unlike other tools, Parenting offers veterans and service members with guidance to modify and enhance your own behavior, rather than just the behavior of your children. Parenting features stories from actual veteran and military families and includes interactive exercises to help you learn how to apply tips to parenting scenarios in your life. Parenting provides insight into common behaviors and reactions from children ranging in age from toddlers to teenagers.
Here are 6 tips from Parenting you can use to strengthen your relationship with your children this summer–and all year-round:
- Take care of yourself. Improving your mental and physical health can make you a better parent. Identify simple things you can do throughout your day to relax or decrease your stress. You are not only recharging your own batteries, but also setting an example for your child to care of him/herself.
- Learn to listen to your body. Pay attention to how you feel. Headaches, an upset stomach or forgetting things can be signs that you need a break. The sooner you recognize these signs, the better you’ll get at taking action–BEFORE you blow your top.
- Switch gears between work and home. Sometimes the communications styles and behaviors that you use work are very different than the ones you should use at home with your children. Plus, stress related to career and job demands can follow you home and affect your loved ones. Practice deliberately “switching gears” between work and home to make sure you leave work behind when you start your job as a parent. When you get home, create a routine that helps you make this happen. Turn off your work phone, play with your baby or make a plan to have a few minutes of “alone time” when you walk in the door.
- Think about your own emotions. Children can really push buttons and it can be easy for parents to subsequently lose their temper. The more aware you are of your own emotions, the better in control you will be and with greater control, you will make smarter decisions.
- Look beneath the surface. Children and teenagers are still learning how to handle intense feelings and emotional pressures. Misbehavior often indicates that they are struggling with managing certain emotions. For example, your child may refuse to go to school because they are worried about taking a test. If you only focus on their behavior (“Get to school, young lady, or else!”), you miss the opportunity to help your child learn how to cope with their various emotions, worries and insecurities.
- Use a positive approach. Discipline works best when there is good parent-child communication and a warm, supportive relationship. You don’t have to be your child’s best friend and you don’t always have to teach, guide or control–sometimes you can just enjoy being with this incredible human being who is your child!
An iPhone app, Parenting2Go, which features tools and exercises from the Parenting course and allows parents access to them on-the-go to get help whenever, wherever. Parenting2Go is free and can be used alone or with the more comprehensive online course and can be downloaded from the App Store.
To start learning more about navigating the challenges of military parenthood, visit VeteranTraining.va.gov, select “Parenting for Service Members and Veterans” and click “Start the Course.”
Parenting is part of a collection of online, self-help resources aimed at helping veterans, service members and their loved ones cope with challenges related to the military lifestyle. These resources are self-paced and completely anonymous, no log-in information is required and you can complete the resource in the privacy of your own home.
For more information on these resources, visit the Veteran Online Self-Help Resource Center. You’ll find free resources on anger management, military parenthood and overcoming stressful situations.
Michelle Sherman, PhD, is a clinical psychologist and research scientist at the University of Minnesota. Dr. Sherman currently supports the Military REACH (Reaching out to Educate and Assist Caring, Healthy Families) Project, focusing on providing mental health resources and support to veterans and their families. Previously, Dr. Sherman spent 17 years at the Department of Veterans Affairs serving as the Director of the Family Mental Health Program, conducting psychotherapy sessions, focus groups and conferences, and contributing to the development of VA’s Parenting for Service Members and Veterans resource. Dr. Sherman is also an author of several books aimed at empowering military teens who are dealing with issues of war, trauma or mental illness by normalizing a variety of reactions, encouraging open communication, supporting healthy coping and offering comfort and support.