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Explaining to Young Kids about the Military

Explaining Military  to Kids


Most children don’t have a lot of exposure to the military in their everyday lives, unless they live somewhere near a large base or post where there is a definite military presence. However, kids might occasionally encounter a uniformed service member while traveling in an airport or watching a parade. They may even see military trucks on the road, naval ships in a harbor, or military aircraft on display.

It’s far more likely that your child will be introduced to the military through some form of media, including:

  • Recruitment ads/posters/commercials
  • Television programs
  • Movies
  • Video games
  • Overheard news reports
  • Animated shows
  • Marketing of “military” toys

The military is an important part of America as a nation. However, media portrayals and even family members who are unfamiliar with its organization and culture can add to the mystery and confusion of exactly what the military is to a young child. Therefore, it’s helpful to have some basic knowledge when explaining to young kids about the military.

Keep Explanations to an Age-Appropriate Level

Like all abstract concepts, it’s important that parents keep their explanation of the military to an age-appropriate level. One of the best ways to approach this, if your child has asked a question about the military, is to determine exactly what they are curious about or what they want to know.

For example, if your child asks about military tanks, they may be wondering more about how they move or what can fit inside rather than their strategic use in ground operations. To clarify what your child wants to know, you can ask them follow-up questions or begin with the most basic of responses and allow them to question you further.

Essentially, any explanation of the military for kids should focus on the people behind the uniforms, planes, ships, trucks, medals, and so on. Parents can emphasize that military members go all over the United States and the world to help people who have experienced hardships due to natural disasters or problems caused by other people. Of course, combat and war are also a part of military history and present culture. However, concentrating on these aspects alone may not only scare or upset young children, but may also give them a narrow view of the military and its many purposes.

Keep Explanations Realistic

Most media portrayals of the military and its members are focused on heroic images and even combat settings. Certainly, the brave men and women who volunteer for service in the Armed Forces are heroes and do potentially face combat situations. However, media depictions are often very unrealistic in terms of day-to-day life in the military and the career paths of most service members.

Therefore, parents can help their children understand that people in the military balance their daily lives much the same as non-military families do, despite what the media might show. In addition, nearly all service members have typical jobs that they do every day—far more often, thankfully, than spending time in combat or other hazardous situations.

Here are just some examples of the “regular” jobs held by men and women in all branches of the military:

  • Police officer
  • Firefighter
  • Cook
  • Doctor
  • Musician
  • Teacher
  • Lawyer
  • Pilot
  • Engineer
  • Truck driver
  • Nurse

However, in addition to maintaining regular jobs and families, service members do put their lives on the line when called. This heroism is also important to convey to young kids as part of an explanation of the military. Letting your kids know that men and women in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard, as well as their families, make special sacrifices to keep other American families safe is a wonderful way to honor their service. This also presents children with a realistic and balanced explanation of the military.

Establishing a Healthy Respect for Military Members and Families

Talking about the military can bring up mixed feelings in adults associated with politics, patriotism, history, and current world events. This can lead to angry and even derogatory statements about military members and their families. It’s important for parents to be aware of expressing these feelings around kids, either outright or unintentionally, through their words and/or tone. Young children are too inexperienced to understand such subtleties and complexities, yet they are very impressionable as they listen to and remember what grown-ups say.

To establish a healthy respect for military members and their families, apart from domestic politics and international policies, direct your child’s focus towards what makes these people special. Military families spend a great deal of time away from loved ones and move locations frequently so that the active service member can do their job. Military kids, in particular, have to change schools and make new friends on a regular basis. By helping your child consider the people in the military, rather than the organization itself, they are likely to appreciate differences and similarities between military and non-military families.

There are many ways to help your child understand concepts that may be unfamiliar to them, such as the military. It’s important to encourage them to ask questions and provide age-appropriate explanations and realistic information in return. If you are unfamiliar with the concept as well, consider going with your child to the library to check out helpful resources or take time to do safe, kid-friendly research online together to learn more. As you model interest in reading, learning, and exploring, your child will also embrace these activities as they grow.

In addition, you can provide a healthy approach to being a lifelong learner for your child by filling their environment with imaginative activities and access to a variety of learning options. At Cognisprings, we support parents looking for educational toys and materials that inspire children to explore who they are and their interests through stories, imagination, and critical thinking. That’s why we provide books, puzzles, games, and toys that are thoughtfully designed for creativity, curiosity, and inspiration. In addition, Cognisprings prioritizes fun and educational activities that are screen-free, promote healthy cognitive development, and encourage personal growth through independent play and learning.