On the challenges facing Service families, early childhood development and risk and resilience


Pinewood StudiosThe Service Children’s Support Network’s Annual Conference was held on Thursday 10th October 2013 at Heatherden Hall, Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire. A most wondrous location with an awe-inspiring entrance (although in the morning light, a great confusion of routes and car parks somewhat confuse the senses!) The theme of the conference was Early Years. I was delighted to be invited to speak on my chosen theme:

The impact on babies and young children of parental absence and return, re-location and disability, including physical and mental health difficulties. 

There were eight speakers and 80 delegates attending, creating a good and diverse gathering. This conference, as with the SCSN Academic Conference, is the brain-child of Joy O’Neil, founder of the Service Children’s Support Network.

I have been immersed in Armed Forces reports, research and websites some goodly while and have made visits to community centres to have coffee and chats with Military Mums, some of whom have been remarkably frank in voicing their concerns, and also, sharing their more positive experiences.

With a son in the fifth year of his nine year commission in the British Army, I am familiar also with a number of RAF and Army bases where my son has been stationed and of various aspects of his life and work that impact on me directly, as a mother of a serving member of the British Armed Forces.

The over-arching theme of my presentation is that of risk and resilience, or, Where do we find evidence of adversity that impacts on a child’s development that is specific to a Service childhood, and where do we find evidence of positive factors that impact on a child’s life for the good.

There is a commonality of concern that presents, in each of these challenging circumstances. 

Regardless of whether we consider the needs of deployment and the families left behind, of mobility and re-location or of injured servicemen and women, there is a commonality of experiences that may emerge.

There is the potential for one or both parents to experience feelings of –

  1. loneliness
  2. social isolation
  3. fear and uncertainty
  4. insecurity
  5. loss and adjustment
  6. anger and resentment
  7. additional pressure
  8. of life becoming a little smaller

All of which impact upon parenting skills, family life and quality of home life.

Army father and child I cannot find the origins or date for this beautifully romanticized poster of a fond farewell, but it harks to a time when the image of war and conflict was glorified, was seen wholly in a positive, patriotic light. The child supports the war effort with the sweetest expression – Good by Daddy! God bless!

The reality, as we know, is somewhat harsher, less easy to romanticize, less easy to celebrate. Yet still I feel there is a pride and loyalty and solidarity between Armed Forces families that renders it at times, problematic to speak of matters of distress, or mental health issues, or post-traumatic stress.

It seems disloyal somehow, to address such unpleasant matters, yet they persist, and impact upon babies and young children as much as they do parents. It is just that young voices are not yet in a position to articulate their concerns, and if they are heard, are heard from an adult’s perspective – seen in the many books that are written by Armed Forces families on behalf of children and young people. Some of these are wonderful and express eloquently children’s fears and heartache over having to move house again, or Daddy going to war.

Element for Adult Happiness

We are easily made content, but happiness is more elusive, and I suspect many of us slip in and out of states of happiness at various times during each waking day, over several weeks or more or during the course of a particularly demanding time in our life.

There are 3 crucial elements for adult happiness –

  1. Optimism
  2. High self esteem
  3. Control over one’s life

For babies and young children, we cannot so easily talk about matters of self esteem and control over one’s life as these are not yet relevant factors. But, all parents are able to influence the first element – optimism.

Around the age of two years, there is the emergence of either a pessimistic personality or an optimistic personality.

Happy toddler

Optimism can best be demonstrated in young children by the presence of joy, inquisitiveness, excitement, a spirit of adventure, smiles and spontaneous laughter.

The child with an emerging pessimistic personality is more prone to tearfulness, fear, anxiety, the need for additional reassurance before venturing out into new social contexts, timidity, restlessness.

Most parents want just three things for their children –  

  1. Happiness
  2. Confidence
  3. Success

I do believe that securing these three characteristics should be the primary goal of all parents, early years settings and practitioners.

To secure these characteristics and for these to be maintained throughout early childhood and into young adulthood and that transition to independence, there is a need to consider that optimistic personality, and our resilience factors as a guard against the challenges of Service family life.

In my next post I will consider some of the evidence base and research that points to risk factors in early childhood and how we may counter that through the practices of families and early years settings.


“People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.” 
―    George Orwell











2 responses »

  1. Thanks Chris! So very kind of you!

    Yes, an excellent conference in a beautiful setting, with a diverse speaker agenda. My first event with a specific focus on armed forces and service families and very good to be involved. I’d like to build on this work more in the future.

    I recall you have written a book too … I will look it up.

    Very best wishes, H x


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