7 Tips for Helping Children Cope With Military Deployment
When a parent serves in the military, their whole family is impacted by their service. Children sometimes feel especially affected by the distance that a deployment places between them and their mom or dad.
Deployments can take an enormous toll on the dynamic of any family, yet military families in the midst of a divorce may find that their situation becomes even more challenging. One parent's absence on top of the emotional weight of the divorce can be hard to cope with, particularly for kids.
Whether parents are divorced or not, staying aligned on the importance of supporting their children throughout a deployment can have such a positive impact on their kids deal with this stretch of time. Here are six ways that parents can help their children cope with military deployments.
Be Honest with Your Children
Your kids may have plenty of questions about why the deployment is happening and why their mom or dad needs to go away for so long. Give them as much information as you can using terms and examples that they will understand. Keep your talks as positive as possible, even if the subject matter is rather heavy. Try not to add to the distress they might already be feeling.
Tell Them Where You'll Be
As the parent being deployed, help your child understand where you'll be by telling them a bit about it. Pull out a map and show them where you will be staying. Talk to them about what your daily routine will be like when you get there including what you'll be eating, what the weather will be like, and what the culture is like in this place.
Encourage Your Kids to Share Their Feelings
As the parent who was not deployed, talk to your kids about the parent who is away. Whether you are still together or divorced, it will help your children to know that they can speak openly about their absent parent.
Remind your children that even though their other parent is away, they still care deeply and often think about home. Encourage your kids to share their feelings with you, and always do your best to comfort and reassure them if they express any worries to you.
Find Resources to Assure Your Kids They Aren't Alone
Kids, especially young children, may not recognize that thousands of other kids across the country are also dealing with the emotional stress of a parent being away due to deployment. Picture books can be a great resource to educate young kids about deployments and show how common this experience actually is. For older children with busier schedules, recommending podcasts that highlight topics important to military kids can be helpful, like the MCEC Podcast.
Have a Communication Plan in Place
Numerous factors may affect how often a military parent will be able to communicate with their kids during a deployment such as their work schedule, a difference in time zones, and access to communication technology. Video chats are a great way to connect face-to-face when you are able to, but this might not always work if your schedules don't align just right. For those times that you cannot communicate at the same time, sending messages and sharing photos or videos through a secure online communication tool will allow you to stay connected.
Let Your Kids Know It's Not Their Fault
It can be hard for a child to understand why one of their parents has to go away for a while. It can be even harder for them to grasp they their parents might be divorcing. They might believe that in some way, they caused the deployment or the divorce to happen. Again, both you and their other parent should be mindful to reassure your kids that the deployment or divorce was not their fault. Even if you think that your kids already know this, it's important to reinforce it as often as it comes up.
Talk to Other Adults in Your Child's Life
Relatives, teachers, doctors, counselors, and other important adults in your child's life should be made aware of the changes that your family is currently facing. If they know what is going on, they will be more prepared to offer your child the support that they need.
Helping children cope with military deployments is key to maintaining their health throughout this emotional time. If you notice that your child continually struggling to cope with your family's current situation, talk to a professional who specializes in helping children cope with family transitions like military deployments and divorce.
Spotlight: Parents Here and There: A Kid's Guide to Deployment
Parents Here and There is a book focused on helping young children cope with the emotions of being separated from a parent due to deployment. It's an excellent resource for helping kids understand that it's okay to miss their parent who is away but that there are many things they can do at home to remember and celebrate their mom or dad and the great service they are providing to our country.