Happy Wednesday! I am so excited to have a guest post to cap off the Month of the Military Child-Grace is fantastic and has some wonderful tips for helping children deal with deployment. Make sure to visit her at her blog as well.
We have all seen those heartwarming pictures and videos of service members meeting their babies for the first time when returning home from deployments. They are the sweetest thing! But most parents know their kids before they leave for deployment. There is already a bond formed there, one that is most often a crucial relationship, an important influence in children’s lives.
Having worked in a couple of different military communities as a family counselor, I have seen how difficult it can be for children with a deployed parent – often there may be some small behavioral issues at home and school, decrease in school performance, decline in sleep leading to crabby and cranky kids, and an increase in anxiety. Most times these behaviors are not severe and often correct themselves after a few weeks or months of the deployed parents’ absence. And since deployment is hard on us spouses as well, often we are more anxious, aren’t getting enough sleep leading to cranky moms, lack a healthy diet, and diverted attention to more responsibilities.
However, there are ways to mitigate some of those negative effects of parental absence due to deployment, TDY, training, or field time. Making sure to keep deployed parents and children connected is crucial to the children’s wellbeing and to decrease the negative effects of parental absence. As you know most military kids grow up without any lasting impact from these separations so know that the effects are temporary, even if it is hard!
Here are some ways I have seen effective at keeping children connected to their deployed parents.
- Phone calls and/or video chats as often as possible. I know this depends on the service members’ jobs, locations, if they are deployed, training or in the field. Some service members I have talked to said they would rather not have video or phone contact back home so that they can push family out of their minds and operate unemotionally while deployed. While I understand their reasoning as a soldier/sailor/marine/airman, it makes it so much harder on the family back home. Having little to no contact can make reintegration that much more difficult, if all ties have been cut for that extended length. It is also hard for kids to understand why suddenly they have no contact with mom or dad. By having any communication – phone calls, video chats, texts, emails, or even just letters allows children comfort knowing their parent is safe and can maintain a connection to them. Any connection is better than no connection.
- Deployment walls have also become a big thing lately. This is a great way to maintain connection for older children who already read, write and tell time, maybe not as helpful for toddlers. Having folders where kids can leave their school work, letters, and pictures for mom or dad lets them feel like they are still able to share their days with their deployed parent. In addition to that I suggest having the away parent take pictures of them in their new surroundings to share with the kids and put up on the deployment wall. The multiple clocks showing the time in both places helps the kids imagine what their deployed parent is doing – is he sleeping? Is mommy eating a meal? Etc. Having information about the area of the world the parent has been sent to can also help children learn about a new culture but can also understand what their parents are doing while away.
- I love the Hallmark books or other books with the voice recorder so that mom or dad can still read to them or tell them stories. Build-a-Bear also has a voice recording device that can be put into the stuffed animals. Having the tangible item to carry with them can be a great comfort to little children, infants and toddlers.
- Finally, the last thing you can do to help your child maintain a connection with their deployed parent is talk to them about their absent parent. If you have a conversation with them while they are at school or asleep share it with them. Tell them what daddy said, share how mommy is doing. And remember that if they are acting out they are not doing it to hurt you or make your life harder; they miss mommy or daddy just like you miss your spouse. Be understanding and patient (trust me, I know how hard that is when you are spread so thin) but try your hardest to be patient.
As rough as deployments and separations are there are ways to make it less difficult for both you and our children. By taking steps to ease the worries and stress your children you can help relieve your own anxiety as well. As parents we often feel responsible for our children’s emotions; we want them to be happy and healthy, even when circumstances are not ideal. When they are upset, it upsets us as parents; any way we can help keep our children connected to their deployed parents will help them feel less upset, anxious and stressed throughout the deployment. So find any way you can help your children stay connected, and it will make it an easier deployment for everyone.
Grace Lipscomb is an Army wife and a family counselor with an emphasis in marriage and family counseling. She is trying to get her foot in the door to provide services for troops and family members. She is currently a volunteer intern with the Family Life Chaplain at Fort Benning, seeing service members and their families. You can find her on her blog, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram.