Expert discusses building resiliency in military children
October 27, 2011
FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (Oct. 27, 2011) -- A renowned pediatrician says the ultimate act of resilience is for a person to turn to someone else and say, "I need you."
Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg, a pediatrician specializing in adolescent medicine at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, is the co-author of "Less Stress, More Success," "A Parent's Guide to Building Resilience in Children and Teens," and "But I'm Almost 13!: An Action Plan for Raising a Responsible Adolescent." Ginsburg serves on the science advisory board of the Military Child Education Coalition.
Ginsburg has recently focused efforts on how to help military children become more resilient. By resiliency, Ginsburg means that children and teens should be able to overcome adversity. They won't be invulnerable, Ginsburg said, and should be free to make mistakes.
Ginsburg uses the 7 Cs of resiliency: connection, character, contribution, coping, control, confidence and competence. He said these are necessary components of resiliency for adolescents, along with having a caring adult who believes in them unconditionally and holds them to high expectations.
Part of resiliency is learning to manage stress, he said. Some stress is good, even painful stress, because it makes children into stronger adults.
"The worst year of my life, I wanted to die every day at 17, but it's why I'm such a success as a adolescent doctor," he said.
Ginsburg said he's listened to many military families talk about how they handle deployment stress. At first, he guessed that children were having issues because the deployed parent was so far away. What he found instead was that the deployed parent and child were having problems connecting emotionally.
With videoteleconferencing, Internet chats and e-mails, Ginsburg said deployed parents could have some connections with their children. However, this can be difficult when the children feel like they don't have anything to say or the deployed parent is emotionally exhausted.
"What it's about is having the deployed parent switch who they are in an instant … that's almost impossible," he said.
At-home spouses can give their deployed Soldier a "heads up" about things that are going on at home -- such as a recital or a soccer game that's important to the child. Ginsburg said both spouses could use a "code word," in case the Soldier just isn't ready to deal with a lot of new information at once.
"You just say this is what I can't handle, this is what I can handle, with one word," Ginsburg said.
He said he got some great ideas from military spouses in ways to connect with children. One was using a storyboard to write down things that the child would like to share with his or her deployed parent. That way when the child is communicating with the deployed parent, he or she won't feel stressed about not having anything to say.
"As soon as you get that call or the Skype comes through, you run and you say, 'this is what happened and this is what happened,'" Ginsburg said. "We just have to lower the emotional barriers."
The language of love is also important to remember, too, Ginsburg said. Not all parents will say, "I love you," some will show love to their children by spending time with them or supporting activities. This can be difficult when that parent is deployed.
"It's part of the disconnect between men and women in general," Ginsburg said. "But we can't allow it to be a disconnect between men and their children when all you've got is words. If you're strong enough to fight, you have to be strong enough to keep your family together."
More information from Ginsburg is available on the MCEC website, "Living in the new normal," at linn.militarychild.org.