Helping your family stay strong in both mind and body is one of the most important things you can do. When the stresses of military life arrive, it’s the best way to ensure that each member of the family can handle them. When upsetting or painful experiences cause overwhelmingly big emotions, the choices you make today to ensure mental wellness can make a huge difference. Remember, if you stay strong in both mind and body, your confidence and well-being will help keep everyone in the family healthy.
In these articles, you will find ideas to help you and your family build healthy minds and healthy bodies. These simple actions will take care of you every day and also through difficult times. There are activities you can do alone, with your child, or together as a family. In stressful times—during moves or deployments or when you feel overscheduled or overwhelmed—turning to familiar routines may help you to be more resilient, to bounce back more quickly, and to keep moving forward.
You’ll find suggestions for:
- Building a hopeful, confident attitude
- Developing a strong, healthy body and lifestyle
- Learning to eat mindfully and healthfully
Don’t worry. You’ve got this!Next: Positive Minds
When your mind is clear, it’s easier to understand, communicate, and deal with problems. In military families, a positive outlook and a hopeful and confident mindset will help you handle the many challenges you face—such as unpredictable and ever-changing schedules, single parenting, and upcoming moves or deployments. You’re halfway to a positive mind if you have some strategies in place for building a peaceful, secure, strong mindset. Here are a few ideas to start:
- Find calm in hectic situations. Military families deal with many emotions, so it’s important to have calming techniques. Finding calm can be as simple as closing your eyes and imagining a place that makes you feel safe and peaceful—for example, the beach. Remember the smells, the sounds, the feel of sand beneath your toes. Close your eyes and breathe.
- Rituals make us feel safe. Special family rituals strengthen family bonds. Whether it’s wishing on a star every evening, blowing bubbles on a window seat, or having a personal object as a reminder of someone who is away, they help us feel more connected and secure. Help your child create a personal safe space: a pillow fort or a pop-up tent, for example, complete with a favorite stuffed toy or blanket to hug.
- Build a good team. Surround yourself with supportive people. Connect with your community, friends, and extended family. Your military network can be especially helpful when dealing with specific issues such as deployment. Seek available services on your base such as the family centers that schedule playdates for parents to drop in. It may feel like you’re all alone, but think again—usually there are people who want to help. Let them! Asking for help when you need it is an important problem-solving skill.
- Have a thank-you jar. All week long, family members can put in little notes or pictures of things they’d like to thank other family members for—helping to make a bed, reading a story, shooting baskets together, and so on. At week’s end, open up the jar and share the gratitude. It will lift everyone’s spirits, making them feel valued and encouraging future cooperation.
- Pay it forward. Encourage your kids to notice when someone does something kind for them, and then to spread the kindness by coming up with something kind they can do for someone else. Pass kindness on! (It feels as good to the kindness giver as to the recipient.)
- Use your skills and strengths. When you need extra encouragement, remember your successes and pull on the strengths and resources that have helped in the past. Use them to develop coping strategies and make healthy choices. This helps model self-confidence for your children, too.
Move Your Body!
It’s important to be in the best shape possible as you deal with the challenges of military life—separations and homecomings, single parenting, busy schedules. Keeping your body active helps you think more clearly, manage your emotions, and improve overall health. You’ll even sleep better and feel more relaxed. And, best of all, it feels terrific. Everybody—and every body—likes to move!
Make moving and exercise regular family routines. Try a few of these fun, easy, family-centered get-moving activities each day. Movement can be adapted for physical impairments or different levels of ability. Be active in whatever way works for you and your family:
- Your family has the moves! Your kids want to be strong and active like you. Together, create a short family routine (perhaps to a favorite song), that you can do early in the day. Ask your kids afterward, “Do you feel more energetic than before you exercised?”
- Take regular walks. Even a ten-minute walk will recharge you. This is also an opportunity for returning parents to reconnect with their kids or adjust to a new neighborhood.
- Play and pretend. Challenge your children to jump like kangaroos, flutter like butterflies, and pounce like kittens. Or play a game of “I Spy” as you go along: Who can find the first acorn on the ground? The first red car? The first spider web?
- Move and do. Daily life is full of errands! When you drive somewhere, don’t choose the nearest parking space. Park in a spot that will encourage some walking; someone who needs to be closer will appreciate this as a kind act.
- Dance break! You can move anywhere. If you’re watching TV and a commercial comes on, mute the sound, turn on some music (or sing!), and DANCE it out! Invite your kids to place their hand over their heart and feel the heart muscle working: flub dub, flub dub. That’s how they know their bodies are getting stronger.
- Perform a balancing act. Balancing builds coordination and strength and helps focus thoughts. Put down a line of masking tape (or outside, draw a line with chalk) to make a “tightrope.” Challenge family members to walk and stand on the line. How long can you balance on one foot?
- Do a home stretch. Studies show that stretching before bedtime may help you relax and give you a better night’s sleep. Do some family stretching before bed and even in bed—touching toes, reaching for the sky, circling heads and shoulders. End with some slow, deep belly breathing: in through the nose, out through the mouth. Ask: Does everyone feel relaxed and calm?
- Find a community center. Take advantage of many activities on base like bowling alleys, skating rinks, playgrounds, peewee sports leagues, or school gyms. It can be a family activity.
Keeping healthy and strong is especially important in military families. With all the moving around, changing training schedules, doctor’s appointments, single-parenting (when the other parent is deployed), and so forth, sometimes it’s easy to forget about your next meal.
Developing good eating habits is not only vital to your physical health, it will also help you feel better, more resilient, and hopeful when facing challenges and adapting to new situations. For kids, it will set them up for a whole lifetime of good choices. Food will taste more flavorful and your body will digest it better. Practice eating purposefully, mindfully, and healthfully:
- Choose anytime foods. Fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains, lean meats, and low-fat dairy foods fill you up in the best way, providing plenty of energy to go through the day. Use fruits and vegetables in season to help your food budget stretch, and try inexpensive protein, such as beans, canned fish (in water), and eggs. Sugary or fried foods can make you feel tired, so save them for special occasions.
- Challenge your kids to eat a rainbow of foods every day. Next time you’re at the market together, let them choose different-colored fruits and vegetables to bring home. Have them count the colors on their plates!
- Introduce healthy new tastes. Go beyond bananas, apples, or carrots. Try avocados, mangoes, snow peas, or clementines. Discovering new foods is an adventure!
- Don’t worry if your child doesn’t (or you don’t) like a new food right away. It may take ten tries or even more. Offer tiny bites (to avoid wasting food) and stick with it.
- Have fun with food—for example, melt a little low-fat cheese over a just-introduced vegetable. Or invite your kids to make a picture: Broccoli makes great trees, and a slice of orange can be the sun. Play with your food!
- Challenge your child to invent creative, alternate names for new foods—such as “green space balls” for Brussels sprouts or “red squirters” for cherry tomatoes. If they’re invested in the food, they’ll be more eager to try it.
- Make healthy snacks easy. Choose a corner of the fridge or pantry to stock healthy choices for the whole family. Have snack bags of cut-up vegetables or fruits; rice cakes that can be topped with low-fat cheese, hummus, peanut butter, or fruit spreads; small low-fat yogurt containers; or trail mix.
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