Educators and counselors learn how to help military kids cope with parent’s absense

There are about 2,900 National Guard and reservists from Ohio deployed around the world. They leave behind 2,100 children who sometimes have trouble coping with their absense. This week at Ohio State educators, counselors and others who work with children are learning how to help them.

School counselors, teachers, even a few military personnel take a brief quiz on some basic military facts like when the US Army began, when reservists can be deployed and who’s the commander in chief.

The quiz is a small part of the two-day seminar, “Supporting the Children of Guard and Reserves.” Ohio State University is hosting the Military Child Education Coalition which discusses topics like emotional issues, handling media information and finding a support group.

Paul Callen is a trainer for the coalition. He’s also a retired Army Colonel. Callen said one of the best things someone can do for children of deployed parents or other family members is to be a good listener.

“The best way to connect, I think, is to start listening to them. And then maybe asking them some questions, open-ended questions like what do you think about this or how do you feel about that?” Callen said. Callen said many times adults don’t realize how many children are affected by the deployments. And he said it’s important to support them.

Samantha Gire, 17, a senior at Dublin Jerome High School, attended the seminar. Gire doesn’t worry about her parents. It’s three of her brothers who are on her mind. They’re Marines. Two have been to Iraq twice with one of them recently suffering injuries from shrapnel.

“I worry constantly. Every second of my day I worry about something happening, which now it has. And so I worry if he’s going to get better, and how long it’s going to take and when I’m going to see him,” Gire said.

While Gire is part of a support group that raises awareness about issues military families face, she said she’s not one to openly talk about her feelings.

“It’s kind of my way of coping. Just to keep it to myself, and just keep it all bottled up, which is kind of the opposite of other people because most people want to talk about it, but it’s different for everybody,” Gire said.

Gire planned to read an essay to the seminar’s participants about how the Iraq War has affected her. But she was overcome by emotion. Her stepmother finished it for her.

Barb Bizzarro deals with a lot of military children because she works for Fairborn City Schools which is near the Wright Patterson Air Force Base. Bizzarro said making sure children keep in touch with their deployed parents is a key to keeping them healthy. But that’s not always possible.

“I have kids that come in and they’re all excited and they talked by e-mail or even by camera to their parents in Iraq daily. I have one little girl whose dad calls her every morning to wake her up. So she’s really in contact with her dad. But I have other students because they’re parents are on patrols they don’t hear from them for weeks at a time. And so they’re behavior is going to be a lot different,” Bazzarro said.

Callen said he hears people talk about the negative effects deployment has on children. But he said there’s a positive side, too.

“I think there’s a lot of strengths that children display. They’re courageous, they’re resilient, and all we need to do is understand that we need to encourage their courage and help them through that,” Callen said.

More than 82,000 National Guard and reserve troops are deployed around the world.

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