By Don Branum
Vermont National Guard Public Affairs
The Vermont National Guard Family Programs Office held an online seminar on April 7 to give parents tips to strengthen their relationships with their children as family members deploy or prepare for deployment.
The class, titled “Military Youth Can Thrive, Not Just Survive,” was offered as part of the Family Programs Office’s observance of Month of the Military Child, with Brian Stoudnour, the presenter and lead child and youth program coordinator, wearing purple for the occasion.
Stoudnour’s one-hour presentation was based on the Search Institute’s developmental relationships framework, which uses five elements, each comprising four actions, to make young people’s relationships stronger.
“All the relationships we have in our lives have a developmental purpose,” Stoudnour said. “When we talk about a developmental relationship, we’re talking about creating those relationships that help you thrive.”
The framework is designed to be relevant across all developmental stages, from infancy to retirement, Stoudnour said, and help people adapt their relationships as their needs evolve.
“The relationship you have with your mother now as an adult is not the same relationship you had with your mother when you were 12 years old,” he said. “Your relationship has changed based on your developmental needs.”
The five critical elements, Stoudnour said, are to express care, to challenge growth, to provide support, share power, and to expand possibilities. Expressing care means showing the other person in a relationship that they matter, he explained. Challenging growth means pushing the child toward continual self-improvement. Providing support means helping children complete tasks and achieve goals. Finally, sharing power means treating children with respect and giving them a say in what’s happening in their families and in their lives. Stoudnour gave an example of what power sharing might look like in a household.
“Our boys are allowed one and a half hours of screen time per day. They are free to choose how they use that hour and a half,” Stoudnour said. “We also gave them the power to choose when they get that hour and a half within their day as long as it’s outside of school. Within that framework, they have freedom to move around and share power within that framework.”
Nick Thomas, a military and family center readiness specialist, asked if that meant setting boundaries ahead of time and providing choices that fit within those boundaries.
“My wife and I had several conversations leading up to that family meeting, so we knew what our framework was going to be, and then allowed them to pick and choose within that framework,” Stoudnour said. “It’s a constant dance: They always want more or less of something or the other, so what are we willing to give them … and what are we not? And it’s different for every household.”
Different types of relationships can be developmental, Stoudnour said, and it’s important for children to have a variety of relationships.
“Young people are most likely to do well when they have at least one strong, well-rounded and sustained relationship in their lives, as well as a broader web of relationships across the places they spend time and the people they spend time with,” he said. Outside the home, children should have a positive relationship with an aunt or uncle or a mentor such as a coach or teacher who can help them develop. It will also be crucial to help children rebuild friendships with others their age as pandemic restrictions are gradually lifted.
“We have to help them re-engage in relationships with their peers because they’ve lost these,” Stoudnour said. “We need to start preparing ourselves now to getting them out there and getting them reconnected. We need to connect our youth with other youth.”