Kids Deployment Challenges
So, your spouse is to be deployed. How can you help your kids understand what is happening?
- The US military has a variety of resources for family members. Make sure to use these resources wisely. From informative brochures to support groups and beyond, a variety of useful tools await you and your kids.
- Communication is key. Using age-appropriate language, talk to your kids about the deployment. Talk about why the deploying parent has to go, where s/he is going, how long s/he will be gone, how s/he will keep in touch while s/he is gone, and how much s/he is going to miss his/her kids while s/he is gone. Also speak about how life will change while Mommy/Daddy is away. (Note: try to keep life as unchanged as possible. Kids often find comfort in the familiar, so familiar routines, people, and locations will be reassuring for them.)
- Address fear directly. Acknowledge that there is risk in deployment, but emphasize that everything possible is being done to ensure that Mommy/Daddy will be safe and able to return home happy and healthy. Do not expose kids to fear-reinforcing activities such as watching blood-and-guts war movies, nightly news broadcasts that report military death tolls, etc.
- Ask your kids probing questions about what they think and feel about what is happening. Be accepting of whatever thoughts and feelings they share. Ensure that your kids know that they can always come to you with their thoughts and feelings.
- Spend extra time with your kids and be extra attentive to them. They need more from you now than they usually do.
- Watch your kids carefully for signs of stress, fear, depression, or anxiety. When you see these signs, address them directly. Ask your kids how they are feeling. Let them have a safe place with you to share what they are experiencing. If appropriate, brainstorm with (or for) your kids on solutions (i.e., joining military family support groups, speaking with a counselor, etc.).
- Expect the transition to be difficult, especially initially. Kids of all ages will struggle to adapt to parental deployment. They may act out. Some grade-school aged children may revert to bed wetting. Teens may exhibit anger and/or withdrawal. A wide variety of manifestations of transition struggles can be expected. Be calm, patient, and reassuring.
- For your older kids, plan activities to help them cope with the separation. Perhaps they can create scrapbooks to help Mommy/Daddy see all that happened while s/he was gone. Plan video teleconferencing, e-mailing, etc. as fun ways to keep the connection going despite geographic separation. As the deployment nears its end, start planning a welcome-home party for Mommy/Daddy.
These are just a few ideas to help your kids understand deployment. On both a cognitive and emotional level, a solid, age-appropriate understanding of deployment will lead to greater acceptance and more successful coping strategies.
Candi Wingate is an expert in the child care industry with over 20 years experience. She is the founder of Nannies4Hire.com and Care4Hire.com, and author of 100 Tips for Nannies & Families and The Nanny Factor: A Parent’s Guide to Finding the Right Nanny for Your Family