So many people have asked me if we are going to stop our USO tour now that there is a troop drawdown under way and many of our service members are coming home.
It’s a good question. The answer is no.
We will continue touring and taking care of our military kids because, for many of them, the work is just beginning. Most people who are not in the military don’t realize how hard it is for families to find their footing when a service member comes home and begins the process of reintegration.
Time and again we have heard from kids who have told us they are not sure how they are supposed to feel when their parents come home. Often, after the initial welcome celebration, reality sets in and the work of reconnecting the family starts. This is hard for kids to grasp because in their minds, everything is supposed to go back to the way it was before the deployment. This notion often leads to disappointment and confusion. If PTSD or TBI is a factor, the reintegration can be even more unsettling and confusing for kids.
In attempting to help kids through the difficult reintegration process, adults often tell children not to worry or that everything will be okay. This helps the adult feel better but leaves the child still struggling with unanswered questions.
Our USO With You All The Way world tour is designed to help kids with this situation and other struggles that come with being a military kid.
During our performances we give kids techniques and tools to help them navigate the complicated reintegration period. At the same time, we create a safe environment for them to work through their feelings with their peers and school support groups. Part of the process is to validate the feelings kids are having and encourage them to share and express what they are going through, instead of keeping it in.
We suggest a technique called The Starting Five, where we ask kids to think of five people in their lives they can trust and feel safe to share their feelings with. Using their fingers, we encourage kids to remember these names by assigning each name a corresponding finger so they can easily recall the person if they are in a tough situation.
We then encourage the kids to reach out to the first person on the list if they need support. If that person is not available, we tell them to move to the next person and so on. Kids often stop asking for help if the first person on the list is unable or not in a situation to help them. We urge them to continue asking for support from the next person in line, and then the next, if necessary.
The Starting Five technique gives kids backup support so they know there is always somebody there for them. We added this to our presentation because I have heard countless times that a teacher, counselor or even a parent was too busy or overwhelmed to offer support. If that’s the case, we explain that sometimes an adult may not be in a position to help and to move on to the next person on their list.
We found that by validating the way our military kids are feeling and offering them a safe environment to share and express what they are going through, they pour their hearts out.
After one of our USO school performances, a bubbly, red-haired boy came up to us after the presentation and just burst into tears. I asked him why he was crying and he said, “You guys made me feel better and my tears just came out. Look,” he said, wiping his eyes and showing me the tears.
He was smiling while he was crying.
After the presentation, kids often tell us how relieved they are someone understands how they are feeling. They let go of powerful, pent-up emotions that are not only affecting their grades, friendships and quality of life, but also their relationships with their returning parents.
We have heard how a young girl’s mother would not hug her when she came home from deployment and another who could not understand why his dad wouldn’t play with him or was too nervous to take him to the mall.
By letting kids know that they are not alone and that it is normal to feel sad, angry, frustrated or depressed when things like this happen, we can help them begin to understand their feelings and find ways to manage them.
We will continue to partner with the USO to help our military kids be resilient and thrive, despite the hurdles they face.
Trevor Romain is a best-selling children's book author; award-winning TV personality, and motivational speaker. To learn more about Trevor Romain, please visit www.TrevorRomain.com.