Deployment is just part of life for most military families, but that doesn’t make it any easier each time it finds its way into your life. Explaining the deployment experience to anyone is difficult, but especially to a child! Between limited understanding of the bigger issues and a harder time handling emotions, it may be tempting to keep little ones in the dark as much as possible. But honest deployment communication with kids is important, as long as you do it the right way.
The key to appropriate deployment communication with kids is to adjust any plan of action to fit your child’s unique situation. Sharing specific realities of deployment at certain ages may be too much for your child to handle or perhaps your child is prone to worry and sharing those realities at any age would be too much. Use your best judgment to guide the conversation with your child.
Honest Deployment Communication With Kids
Begin the conversation before deployment happens.
Kids take a while to get used to certain ideas, especially big changes. Don’t believe me? How often do you remind your child it’s almost bedtime before it’s actually bedtime? The military’s notoriety for changing things around can certainly make early conversations a bit difficult, but even just a brief discussion once things are (as) final (as they can be) followed by a longer discussion closer to the departure date will be good.
Educate the child about deployment.
Explaining details about deployment in an honest, age-appropriate manner may help the child feel more comfortable with the entire process. Certainly leave out anything that may frighten the child and avoid sharing sensitive information, but the more information a child has, the more comfortable they’ll be. Both parents should be part of this conversation, with the military parent leading the way, but making it clear that both parents are still there for them.
Things to explain include:
- when the parent will leave
- how they’ll get where they’re going
- where they’re going
- how long they’ll be gone
- what they will do when they get there
For younger children, you could also read a book specifically written to explain deployment to kids.
Explain things in terms they’ll understand.
For younger children, a statement as simple as “mommy/daddy has to go away to fight bad guys and protect us” may be all you need to say. Perhaps you can compare the military parent to a superhero or TV character that the child looks up to as a way to help them understand the role their parent plays. For older children, more complex things like timelines and locations may be helpful. Ultimately, you know your child better than anyone and can decide what language is best to use.
Ask if they have questions.
Whether they act like it or not, kids are constantly spinning things around in their minds and odds are they have a lot of questions about deployment. By asking them if they have questions and discussing the answers together, you may realize they grasp far more about deployment than you thought. Plus it allows you to clear up any misconceptions they may have.
Continue the discussion throughout deployment.
Honest deployment communication with kids cannot stop once the deployment has begun. Despite your efforts to prepare them in advance, little kids will likely ask when their military parent is coming home or why they aren’t there for an important moment. You may have to remind them what mom/dad is doing to protect them and why that’s important.
I think most military spouses avoid the news during deployment, but sometimes the news has a way of finding you. Older children may hear or read things that spark additional discussion. It’s important to answer those questions in a straightforward and direct manner (all within reason and OPSEC).
Honest deployment communication with kids is important: providing them with as much age-appropriate information as possible about a major life event helps them adjust to the impending change. Talking to your child about deployment both before, during and after keeps them in the loop. They are a valuable part of your military family and should be treated as such!
Do you have any tips for honest deployment communication with kids?
Need care package ideas? I’m giving away 165+ ideas (plus what to put in them) here.