After TBI: Supporting the Military Child

Military children make great sacrifices and face unique challenges. They often experience multiple moves, upsets to family routines, and separation from loved ones. These challenges become more difficult when a parent experiences an injury.

Helping children understand more complex injuries, such as a traumatic brain injury (TBI), can be tough. However, it is important to find ways to explain these injuries to your children.

The families of the more than 344,000 service members, diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury since 2000, are learning to cope with the impact of injury. A Head for the Future, Military Kids Connect and Sesame Street for Military Families offer resources to help families through the TBI recovery process.

Communicate thoughtfully

Even if you don’t know all the details about the injury or recovery process, try to sound reassuring when you speak to a child. Do your best to manage your own anxiety and to protect your child from information he doesn’t need. You can help manage anxiety in children by taking time to consider and plan what to say and how to explain the injury.

The Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center (DVBIC) “Talking with Children About TBI” booklet offers communication techniques for parents or guardians to help children understand common changes during TBI recovery. It features specific techniques based on the age and stage of development of the child.

The “TBI Tough Topics” on the Military Kids Connect website has information for older children to learn about living with a parent with TBI. They can listen to real experiences from military peers who experienced an injury.

Create a sense of security

While an injured family member recovers, your family’s daily activities will change. It is important to establish new routines to adjust to your new normal. There is comfort in the familiar, especially in the everyday routines your family shares. Create routines to give your child something to look forward to each day.

Sesame Street for Military Families provides tools to help families establish and maintain routines such as a downloadable worksheet, My Morning Routine, to help children create a morning routine. In addition, there are other resources for routines, including tips, videos and links that can help families. 

Spend time together as a family

Set aside family time each week to connect with each other. Instead of focusing on the limitations of a family member’s injury, consider activities that everyone can enjoy, such as playing a board game, cooking or taking a walk. Hold a weekly family meeting to check-in with one other and talk about future plans; family members can take turns choosing and planning activities. In addition to family time, children need one-on-one time with their parents to feel heard and appreciated.

Military Kids Connect offers a video series, Things We Do Together, which features families who share how spending time together helped them through the TBI recovery process.

Stay Connected

These resources can help families through the TBI recovery process:

  • A Head for the Future features videos, fact sheets and other informative materials for the military community; visit A Head for the Future to learn more, and follow A Head for the Future on Twitter and on Facebook.

  • Military Kids Connect is a safe, online community for military children that provides access to age-appropriate resources to support children coping with the unique psychological challenges of military life. Visit the Military Kids Connect website to connect with other military families, join discussion boards, play videos and find information on tough topics.

  • Sesame Street for Military Families helps military families and their young children cope with the challenges of deployment and build resilience in times of separation and change; read their Talk, Listen, Connect magazine and resources for additional information.