Show and Tell Becomes Shown and Told For MilKids

Girls on school bus

“My daddy sent this to me when he went away,” said this shy little girl presenting her Show and Tell treasure in front of my kindergarten classroom. She stroked the bear with its camouflage pants and proudly demonstrated its singing abilities.

But as her classmates applauded, I bit my lip and blinked away tears. I knew what that bear meant to that little girl. I knew she was sharing a true treasure.

I knew her father had sent her that bear from Iraq before he was killed.

Before the school year began, I read through my new students’ files, making mental notes of preschool backgrounds, food allergies, and any additional information parents include to help teachers understand their children. My breath caught when I read this girl’s file. Her father was killed in Iraq the same year she was born. She never met him. She’s never had a father. She is a military brat who sacrificed long before she knew what the word sacrifice meant.

As a military spouse, my heart broke for this child as I thought about how my own military brats would cope with the loss of their father. However, as a teacher, I felt I was at a complete loss, wholly unprepared to nurture this child, or any child, who walked into my classroom with such an exceptional family history.

I earned my teaching degree in a military town. I completed my student teaching in a military town. And I’ve been teaching for the last two years in a military town. Yet I’ve never taken a class on the psychology of the military child or sat in on a teacher in-service lecture on how to attend to the unique needs of a military child. Any instincts I’ve had with military brat students have been maternal, based solely on my experiences with my own children and the children of my military friends.

But what about those teachers who aren’t military spouses, who don’t have their own military brats at home, who don’t have any prior experiences with military families?  Considering the amount of time teachers spend with our children, I’d say it’s pretty important for educators who work in a location with a large military population to learn about those unique needs of military brats.

Members of the military community often talk about the military-civilian divide, that invisible line that separates these two disparate worlds and makes us feel that most people don’t understand us. But we need to find a way to cross that line, if not for our own sake, then for the sake of our military brats.

So how can we do this? How can we help educators and caregivers understand our children?

Communication! If your spouse is preparing to deploy, email your child’s teacher or ask to schedule a conference. Let her know to keep an eye out for unusual behavior. Share any coping strategies you know your child responds to. Compile a list of books written for both adults and children about military life. Print out articles and direct teachers to online resources like Military OneSource, Sesame Street for Military Families, and Military Kids Connect. At the very least, encourage open communication and make yourself available to answer questions.

As a mother of military brats, I try to follow my own advice by emailing my childrens’ teachers if my husband will be gone longer than two weeks. As a teacher, I appreciate when parents give me a heads up about special circumstances or changes their children are experiencing at home. Even if I see no behavior changes in my classroom, at least I can give out a few extra hugs.

I often think about that Show and Tell day and the special little girl who will never know her father. I’m thankful that her mother opened the lines of communication with me by including that information in her daughter’s file. Otherwise I might never have known how important it was to give out a few extra hugs that day.

What do you do to help your child’s teachers and caregivers understand the military lifestyle?

About the Author

Heather Sweeney
Heather Sweeney is an Associate Editor at, former Navy wife, mother of two, blogger, and avid runner. She’s the blogger formerly known as Wife on the Roller Coaster and still checks in every now and then at her blog Riding the Roller Coaster.
  • IAgal

    As one who lost her own father as a toddler (accident, not military-related), I feel that I can relate to that young girl. Likely the loss is still very abstract to her, not truly knowing what she has missed. It wasn’t until nearly adulthood that it actually dawned on me that I was a child of a single-parent household; I always considered myself a child of a married couple, just that one of them was dead. Perhaps one of the best things you can do is to be supportive of the parent, who is likely still struggling with the emotions of knowing exactly what she is missing as well as the trials of trying to raise a child or children on her own.

  • Pattie

    Exactly what you said: let the teacher know what’s going on. It always helps.

  • Kat

    Great article. My husband was in Afghanistan when our oldest was in Kindergarten. His teacher (whose son had returned from Iraq six month prior) was so good to him, and let me know when he seemed down or clingy. It meant the world for us to have her watching out for him and knowing that she felt his pain and loneliness.

  • mel

    I let the teacher know when my husband will be gone for a deployment and I also tell the teachers in her after school program. In fact, I just had to do this. My daughter is not one to wear her emotions on her sleeve and those who spend time with her notice when she is “off” and once they know why, they are more able to give encouragement and understanding. Luckily we are in a military town and the public school has a group for kids that have a parent deployed. My daughter benefitted from this group as it helped her to know that other kids were going through the same thing and her worries were shared by other kids. Also, the person who runs the afterschool program is former military and his adult son is one of the teachers, so they are very aware of how stressful this life can be for kids. I worry about my daughter during deployments and it helps me to have extra eyes and ears out there who have her best interests in mind and they care enough to keep me informed when she is having a rough time.

  • susan

    Right on! Keeping the teacher informed is vital! There are some agencies that provide education for teachers but depending on where you are stationed, they are hit or miss on how well-known they are in the area. The Military Childhood Education Coalition has some great educational programs for professionals that deal with military kids.

    Check out

    • Heather Sweeney

      Thanks for the suggestion Susan! I’ll definitely check it out.

  • Kim

    I agree with everyone here. I have always informed the teacher of what is going on with our daughter. She is also one to clam up when she is upset and with being a teenager sometimes adults think she is just moody. With them knowing her father is deployed, it helps the communication between them. As adults we realize “no news is good news” when a SM is deployed but to a child when the phone calls don’t come in daily she will start to worry and think it means something has happend to him.

  • Very good article. I suggest you check out TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors) at This is an organization that specializes in helping all survivors overcome their grief by showing them how to move forward while continuing to love the one they lost. The TAPS Good Grief Camp, held each year in Washington, DC, and now elsewhere throughout the nation, is fantastic for children. It’s an organization supported at the highest levels by DOD, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and each Service Chief so it should be on your list of organizations to recommend to your students and their parents.

    • Heather Sweeney

      Thanks for the resource Buzz! On my way to check it out.

  • A wonderful post and a wonderful insight into what can pinpoint a problem before it begins or gets overwhelming for all involved and this definitely has a roost in our house. I went from milbrat to active military to milspouse and have found that our five daughters reacted differently to all of the different situations military life has presented at different points in their childhood. Our older daughters are now college age and they STILL need to have someone to be able to understand when they are down or overwhelmed and why, but I DO have to bring up a point that tends to lighten all of our family’s memories and gets us through even in the roughest of times… Teachers (and school administrators) often aren’t prepared for, shall we say, unique answers to questions such as what is your parent’s occupation? (Even when we’ve provided our families information for just the reason this discussion is about) We’ve gotten more than one call (each child seemed to have reached at least one moment, especially in the early years) from the school with an, “Ummm, I just had to touch base with you because your daughter announced what your husband’s occupation was and it kind of concerned us.” I was horrified the first time our eldest daughter casually told her classmates that her father made things that go boom. I WAS HORRIFIED! I waited for days for a knock on the door from SOME government agency. We thought we had that base covered after we had all sat down and had a LONG family discussion about this and other things that do NOT have the same meaning connected to it as military families understand it and that there were other assumptions others might mistake by our wording and meaning. Another school, another child, another call. This time I handed it to my husband who happened to be home at the time and then had to move out of hearing range as I heard my husband try to explain his occupation and seriously fumbled the ball in his description because he didn’t consider his ‘audience’. That time, he had to go to the school… in uniform… with a letter from his commander for our daughter’s principal to reassure her as well as apologizing for not being clearer. ME? I was too busy laughing like a hyena THAT time. So this may put me in a very bad light as a human being… but one thing we’ve learned and tried to teach all of our kids is to try to find the silver lining in everything, especially when that is the hardest thing to do, because for us, without a sense of humor and an ability to see situations and people from different perspectives, I don’t think we could have raised them, kept our marriage and family together, or be as sensitive to other peoples situations, whatever they might be. Your post made me think that here is a child whose Mother has done an amazing job of giving her daughter not pity, but a compass and solid foundation by keeping her daughter’s father alive for her and in truth my own opinion (and that is all it is because we also have this situation in our extended family) is that her father IS alive because she is part of him, but who SHE is or will be comes from HER own accomplishments and an exceptional mother who obviously loves and supports her.