Self-Expression

Children of military families are unique in many ways. They face challenges that are difficult even for most adults to handle. They may also have amazing opportunities that most children only dream of. Teaching kids communication skills, helping them maintain a positive outlook, and supporting them as they express how they feel can reduce stress…and help kids thrive and grow.

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  • Let It Out

    Help your child find positive ways to express emotions.

    Let It Out

    Transitions such as deployments, homecomings, or relocations can require a lot of emotional adjustment for your child. Use these ideas to help kids express feelings during periods of change.

    Talk to your child about his feelings

    • Encourage your child to tell you how she’s feeling. The more you understand her experience, the better you can help help her adjust, problem-solve, and maintain a positive outlook.
    • Let your child know he has your full attention by listening closely and summarizing what he says. Validate his feelings by telling him it’s OK to feel that way and reassuring him: “I’m here for you.”

    Offer your child different ways to “let it out”

    • Communication skills are often hard for kids to master. Younger children who are still learning words to express their feelings can use movement or expressions to let their emotions out. Use the Feeling Faces interactive game to help kids learn new words and express the feelings that might be hard to talk about.
    • Alternative ways to communicate as a family, such as singing, laughing, or making art together, can be useful (and fun!) at any age.
    Next: Who I Am
  • Who I Am

    Describe all the wonderful ways your child is amazing.

    Who I Am

    No matter what changes come her way, your child can find strength in all the unique qualities and abilities she has developed so far. Use the ideas below to help your child take pride in her accomplishments, and also learn new words that describe her.

    Words that Describe Me

    Help your child grow her vocabulary as you describe and discuss her wonderful qualities.

    Kind means being gentle and thinking about how others might feel. People might be kind if…

    • They share their crayons with a friend
    • They hug a friend who is sad
    • They include someone who was left out

    Helpful means being there for others when they need you. People might be helpful if…

    • Someone drops something and they pick it up for that person
    • They clean up their toys when they are finished playing

    Brave means being strong and showing courage. People might be brave when…

    • When I went down the slide by myself for the first time
    • They go to the doctor even though they are scared

    Creative people have lots of ideas and use their imagination! People might be creative if…

    • They make up a really fun game
    • They turn a cardboard box into a spaceship

    Strong means being able to get through hard situations that may come your way. People might be strong if…

    • They report to an adult after seeing a friend get hurt
    • They fall down but get right back up again and continue to play

    Being persistent means trying and trying again. People might be persistent if…

    • They try to ride their bike, fall off, and keep trying
    • They try to build a really tall block tower and, even though it keeps falling, they keep rebuilding it until it stands tall and strong

    Curious means you really want to know more about something. People might be curious about…

    • What happens if you mix yellow paint with green paint
    • How a book is going to end

    Pictures of Me

    Celebrate little moments of greatness! Make a collage about all the wonderful things your child does. Throughout the week, take pictures of your child as he shares and helps others, persists with a challenging task, or manages his frustration while waiting. Print those pictures at the end of the week, and together with your child paste them on a piece of paper or cardboard. Reflect together about what the pictures represent and label each moment with the personality trait that best describes it. For example, if your child is playing nicely with a friend, label that picture “friendly.”

    A Hero in Everyone

    Talk together about the things that make someone a hero, and then make a list of the little ways that your child is like a hero, too. Do heroes help? What are some ways that your child can help out around the house? Are heroes brave? How can your child be brave? Can she try something she’s never done before? Display your list so you can revisit it.

    Next: Big Feelings
  • Big Feelings

    Look for signs of stress in kids.

    Big Feelings

    Young children are still learning to express their emotions in productive ways. Big feelings can be overwhelming and may cause little ones to act out or behave aggressively. Children may sometimes express themselves through behavior rather than words. Be aware of changes in your child’s behavior, and get counseling if it’s needed.

    » If you observe unusual clinging or fear of being alone, try to use gentle words and reassure him that you will keep him safe. Offer a comfort item like a toy or blanket. If he is fearful of separating, remind him that you always come back and let him know when you will return.

    » If you observe trouble sleeping, try to keep a consistent routine to provide comfort. Read a favorite story or sing a favorite song each night. Simple deep breathing or a back rub may also help.

    » If you observe your child is less verbal or is exhibiting unusually introverted behavior, try to ask how he is feeling and provide an opportunity for discussion and for him to ask questions. Also, offer other ways for him to express himself, such as drawing.

    » If you observe more frequent outbursts and tantrums, encourage her to describe her feelings with words, such as angry, sad, scared, or worried. Provide an outlet by allowing her to play or by going for a walk together. Keeping routines can also help prevent tantrums.

    » If you observe a return to wetting the bed, thumb sucking, or baby talk, try to reassure children that everything will be okay. Understand that these are normal behaviors when there are a lot of changes happening in the family.

    These changes in behavior could happen during big changes, such as deployments, homecoming, or relocations.

    Next: Additional Resources
  • Additional Resources

    Helpful links related to Self-Expression