Military Child Resilience
Melanie Lewis, (far left), Picatinny Arsenal, N.J., Child and Youth Services staff member, and Amanda Dizinno (far right), Child and Youth Services assistant director, celebrate the most active youth in their center at the Junior Youth of the Year gala. (Photo Credit: (Courtesy photo)) VIEW ORIGINAL

Kids are incredibly resilient. In the past year they have transitioned from attending school in person, to virtual home schooling, and soon they will return to full time in-person school this fall. Home schooling has meant a completely different experience for students. The learning environment at home is typically more relaxed because students are in the comfort of their own homes, and less structured, as parents—who had to manage their own professional and home obligations while simultaneously assisting with virtual learning—might have found it challenging to keep a strict routine and relaxed their rules for tablet access, video games, or television.

Amanda Dizinno, Master Resilience Trainer and Assistant Director of Child and Youth Services at Picatinny Arsenal, New Jersey, used the shutdown as an opportunity to reevaluate and revamp CYS processes to help make the transition back to the facility as smooth as possible. When the shutdown occurred, Dizinno’s goal was to provide as much support as possible to Families in the community. She began by working with her team to create and upload weekly videos that included activities kids could do at home, ranging from reading books, to simply saying “Hi” to the students and engaging them in conversation online to help them maintain their social connection.

However, when the Youth Center re-opened in March 2021, Dizinno and her team began to operate at nearly full capacity coordinating the schedules of students in the school age program from 10-12 different school districts.

Dizinno, her staff, and students found changes in behavior and routine after being home for so long posed a new challenge. They found themselves having to revisit a lot of school rules as if it were the first day of school all over again.

“We tend to do things that are familiar and comfortable because we know the result,” said Dizinno. “We had to build on what’s been reestablished and take a step back to see what’s working, what’s not working, and what’s changing.”

When behavioral issues surface, Dizinno makes it a point to seek assistance from teachers who have the best relationship with that child – a partnership with constant communication is helpful not only at school but at home. Dizinno’s background in resilience training has allowed her to take different, more unorthodox approaches to addressing behavioral issues in her students.

“Parents don’t readily recognize behaviors are messages,” said Dizinno. “Because we’re with these kids all day we recognize the changes rather quickly.” Dizinno recommends parents share best practices with teachers: “What are you doing at home that’s working? Maybe we can try it here.”

Although the MRT 80-hour course was created for deploying Soldiers, it was also adapted to fit within the CYS role. Dizinno has used it in both professional and personal settings. As a result, she has not only trained six Resilience Trainer Assistants, but a lot of the resilience strategies and techniques have been passed down to the students in CYS. The training has helped her and the teachers handle situations differently and helped increase productivity.

Dizinno sets aside two full days of resilience training for her staff each year. She said training the teachers in skills has given them a strong foundation and improved the resilience of the students. Some of the training passed down to older kids in the program has given the teachers the tools to help them facilitate conversations and practice resilience skills in the everyday program.

Dizinno’s advice to similar programs looking to improve and or boost child resilience is if they have the opportunity to take the full MRT 80-hour course, they should “Do it!”

"It doesn’t have to be complicated. When 'hunting the good stuff,' make it a point to simply ask your children, 'So, tell me something good that happened today?'" she said.

Dizinno also recommends parents be open to feedback from staff and take a strengths-based approach by sharing with their teachers what kind of motivators their child responds to that can be used to help curb behavioral issues.

“The important thing is to do what’s in the best interest of the child,” said Dizinno.

Tips to Reconnect:

Ways Kids Can Reconnect With Their Peers and Teachers:

1. Engage in fun, cooperative, peer-to-peer or student-to-teacher games.

2. Ask each other questions and actively listen.

3. Find creative ways to connect to each other (i.e., write a positive message on a sticky note).

4. Share stories about your Family or where you are from.

5. Encourage your students to respect each other’s thoughts and feelings.

How Parents & Teachers Can Help Students Get Back to A School Routine:

1. Acknowledge/speak your child’s/student's love language (i.e., quality time, words of affirmation, etc.)

2. Validate their feelings and/or apprehensions about returning to school.

3. Make a clear and visual schedule to establish new routines and habits.