Having a parent or family member deploy is rough on the entire family. This is especially true for young kids who might not have the emotional capacity to understand a family member being gone for months on end. (Let’s face it … few of us do.) After all, it’s supposed to be the happiest time of the year, and here we all are celebrating, without Mom, Grandpa, Uncle John, or whoever else might be stationed overseas.
While this will sound like a tall order, giving kids the tools to deal with big emotional changes can help them to become well-rounded, stable individuals. Help your babies thrive with these tactics to the military family reality that is deployments.
Use these quick tips to help kids understand this tough time.
- Talk about the deployment
The worst, right? If you’re confrontational at heart, this won’t be as tough. But for all the Midwesterners out there who are taught to avoid, avoid, avoid, this will be a nightmare. The first step in helping kids understand a deployment is to actually talk about it. Tell them what’s coming and what it means — be honest in an age-appropriate way, but don’t lie. Tell them it’s ok to be upset; emotions are healthy.
The process will be rough, no doubt. But honesty can help everyone think about their feelings and discuss how it affects the family.
- Talk to others
Military families have access to a number of tools, including the ability to talk to counselors or therapists. Reach out to local offices and find professionals who specialize in talking to kids. Whether you opt to take the kids yourself (or a video call), or gain some advice for talking with them yourself, it’s a sure place to gain peace of mind that you’re saying the right things.
- Learn lengths of time
The reason deployment can be so rough on kids is that each one is in their own developmental stage. For younger kids, you might talk about what lengths of time mean. Consider a countdown chart, such as a paper chain or numbered blocks. Turning the process into a lesson can help everyone cope.
For older kids, you might consider hitting milestones, such as eating at a favorite restaurant after a month, ordering a family gift after two, etc. You know your kids best, and incorporating their interests can drum up excitement, even about a deployment.
- Exercise the miles away
Staying physically active can be a great mood boost for parents and kids alike. Consider a challenge that incorporates the deployment. Walk the number of miles you are apart, or a mile for each day they are gone. Jumping jacks, lunges, etc. can certainly be substituted. Whatever you choose to do, this is a way to incorporate Mom or Dad into a daily ritual that can boost health. Besides, a routine can be an effective way to move forward and make the days pass quickly.
- Avoid the taboo
Kids will certainly be sad that their loved one is away, but that’s all the more reason to make this topic ok to discuss. Avoid sparing feelings by not mentioning the time apart. FaceTime to include your family member, make and mail things like cards and photos. Just planning for your soldier can help kids feel more involved.
Younger kids will benefit from a doll or stuffed animal that’s dressed as their loved one, while older kids can help plan things like holiday or birthday gifts for the return.
There’s no denying that deployments are difficult for kids to understand. But as a loved one who stays behind, it’s your job to help them through this process. Consider different programs or methods to help little hearts cope with big problems. It’s just a few steps that can help ease them through these long, hurtful months.
What are your best ways to help kids understand a deployment? Tell us below.