8 Ways to Prepare Your Children for Your Deployment

military dadThe children in military families have to face many challenges that don’t impact the lives of their non-military peers.  One of the most difficult is having to say goodbye to and endure a lengthy separation from a parent being deployed. Normal family life is disrupted, and powerful emotions often emerge. These may include anxiety, anger, uncertainty, confusion, depression, and sadness, to name a few, according to NASPonline.com. As a parent, there are numerous things you can do to help prepare your children for deployment and increase their ability to cope during this difficult time. Following are several suggestions:  

Tell your children the truth.
Children often know when they’re not being dealt with honestly. Making up a story about where you’re going in order to protect them may end up fueling their anxiety in the long run. It’s better to start talking about it openly in advance to help them deal with the emotions that will inevitably surface. This also allows them to get used to the idea of having an absent parent, while providing an opportunity to get answers to all their questions. When you do respond to their questions, be sure to give age-appropriate answers.

Educate them about where you’re going.  
If you have a globe or world map, get it out and show your child your deployment destination, if you can. 

Knowing you’ll be with other people, rather than alone in some strange place, often helps reduce his or her worry.

Plot the route you’re going to take to get there. Discuss what you’ll be doing and who else will be there with you. 

Knowing you’ll be with other people, rather than alone in some strange place, often helps reduce his or her worry.

The more information you can provide – including little details like where you’ll sleep and eat – the better. 

Encourage them to express their feelings openly. 
Older children may want to talk about their feelings, or keep a diary or journal. Make yourself available to listen and provide support. Younger children have more difficulty talking about their feelings, due to their limited vocabulary. Encourage them to express what they feel by drawing or painting pictures. Make sure they know that all their feelings (positive and negative) are acceptable and normal.

Provide plenty of reassurance. 
If your children are old enough to have some idea of the potential dangers of military deployment, reassure them as often as needed. Remind them that you have been very well trained to keep yourself as safe as possible.  

Monitor and limit media exposure. 
If there is a lot of media coverage related to where you are being deployed (like the war on Iraq), limit the amount of time your children can watch or hear it.  This type of exposure (particularly if it depicts violent situations) can trigger significant anxiety for your children. If they are exposed, or have interest in watching or listening, and it is appropriate for their age, then sit down with them and watch or listen together. Answer any questions they may have, and provide plenty of emotional support. 

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Set up a plan for communication while you’re away. 
Your children will cope much better if they can communicate with you during your deployment. Talk about ways you can do this, including letters, emails, tape recorded messages, pictures, and videos. Let them pick out special paper and envelopes (perhaps with a fun design or a special color) that will be used only for your correspondence. Don’t hesitate to be creative and make it fun. 

Allow them to help you pack. 
This will help them feel needed and important. It will also give them an opportunity to come up with ways to stay connected with you. For example, they may want you to take a toy or picture they drew with you. Sending you with a photo of themselves can be comforting to them.  Be sure they have a photo of you to keep with them as well.

Use support resources that are available.  
There are numerous family support services offered by the military. These include counselors, support networks, and a variety of other things to help your family while you’re on active duty. Federal entities, such as the VA and SAMHSA, are excellent places to contact to find out more information about these services.

With the proper support and reassurance, children can benefit from this difficult time of separation in many ways. According to military.com, they may develop stronger family ties and become more independent and mature – positive traits that will help them throughout their lives. 

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8 Ways to Prepare Your Children for Your Deployment

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2 comments

  1. KT. S says:

    I was blessed when my husband deployed my daughter was 3 months old but it was emotionally and mentally harder for him because he missed all the big milestones! Walking, crawling, first words, first tooth, all of them! My best advice to anyone whos about to go thru this…. Be honest with the kids about the situation, let your family help you, keep your communication going with you deployed love one, and ALWAYS be aware of their feelings. You could think a picture of your child is funny but it could be taken a negative way by your solider. Remember they are stressed missing you and more than likely depressed. Make them feel as loved as possible and let the children know the situation if they are old enough. Kids are smart.

  2. Grace says:

    these all are helpful, its hard when they are young because they simply do not understand, and its hard when they are older because they know… so either way its hard….

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