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Boosting Family Resilience

Army soldier with Family

U.S. Air Force photo by Technical Sgt. Joe Zuccaro/Released

Just as service members can build resilience, families can also take steps to boost their resilience or “family fitness.” Family fitness is every military family’s ability to use physical, psychological, social and spiritual resources to prepare for, adapt to and grow from military lifestyle demands.1 By helping family members feel more secure and connected in daily life, families can build resilience to cope with common military stressors like deployment, permanent change of station, combat injury and operational stress.1 This resilience also helps protect the psychological health of children who may struggle with change, fears or missing a parent. What’s more, the more fit military families are, the better able they are to support their service member.2

The Department of Defense offers service-specific resources to help military families build resilience. Programs may vary by branch and location, and may include referrals to local community resources, outreach programs for families new to the military, classes in parenting or stress management, or help for relocating families.See the box to the right for helpful resources by branch.

Family Fitness Tips

During all stages of military life, families can build resilience. Whether a service member is home or away, families can successfully cope by using family fitness tools that are:1,

  • Physical. Exercise can relieve stress and help you and your family stay healthy. Exercising as a family can also help bolster family connections.
  • Psychological. Have regular family dinners to talk about the day and strengthen bonds or talk with a family therapist about fears or concerns.
  • Social. Get involved in activities through a local military family support group to stay informed and strengthen your social network.
  • Spiritual. If spirituality or religion is a source of support for your family, stay with it. Whether it’s personal practices or support groups, the support of friends makes the going easier.

Service members and families can build resilience by using internal and external tools. Internal tools, like family traditions, dinners or game nights, are important for strengthening bonds. External tools like Family Readiness Groups (FRG) can be helpful during all stages of military life. FRGs offer families a supportive forum for sharing experiences, tips and resources. FRGs also provide social activities to help people stay connected and positive, and they provide moral support to one another during deployments. For more tips on coping with deployment as a family, see the Real Warriors articles below:

What Line Leaders Can Do

Warriors are not alone in their concern for their families. Family readiness affects line leaders and service member readiness, which impacts missions for military leaders.1 Line leaders themselves may experience stressors in home life and know that these disruptions can cause stress for their unit members. It’s important for leaders to encourage unit members to use the family resources that are available. Family centers offered by the military can help families stay resilient during, in between and after deployments. This, in turn, helps strengthen the health of the whole force.

Additional Resources


1 Westphal, CAPT Richard J. Woodward, Kirsten R. “Family Fitness.” Military Medicine 175 (2010): 97-102. Print.
2 The road to resilience. (n.d.). American Psychological Association.

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