Training away from home is part of the military way. Schools, deployments, overnight sessions — all of these and more are a regular occurrence for military members. And then, on the other side of things, are their families, left to hold down the fort at home.
Over time it’s a schedule that everyone becomes used to … that is, until young kids are involved. While older kids can certainly understand the logistics of a parent being away (even if they don’t like it), with toddlers or babies, it’s another story. They simply aren’t old enough to grasp what’s taking place. They cry, they act out, and they’re confused as to why mom or dad disappears for days, weeks, or even months at a time.
Teaching these training schedules to kids is certainly hard, but it’s also one that can leave them better emotionally equipped in years to come.
Talk about it
When parents are away at training, it’s ok to tell your kids — in fact, you should tell your kids that, “Daddy’s at work” or “Mommy had to go on a work trip.” These explanations might not make sense in the status quo, but they will teach them that sometimes parents are gone, but it’s nothing to worry about. We know they will come back, and in the meantime, it’s ok to miss them and talk about what they’re doing.
Adjust the conversation in a way that’s age-appropriate, so your kids can still remain informed without being confused or overwhelmed with military training schedules.
Keep it busy
When a parent is in the field, it’s a good time to bring out the fun distractions. Not only will this make it easier for the parent at home, but the kids will have an easier time with the transition. This is true for kids of all ages, not just the littles! Check out local family-friendly events. Get out the “messy” or “outside only” toys and share some new family fun. Make crafts, cook together, or try something new. It’ll give the kids something to talk about once the other parent comes home, and it will speed up everything else in the meantime.
Did we mention this helps the time go faster?
Learn about the process
What’s mom or dad off doing, anyway? Sounds like the perfect time for a lesson. Use this time to talk about what’s being accomplished during this time away. Talk about the history of the armed forces, look into camping gear to talk about field stays, and help your kids find your spouse’s location on a globe or map. When at a school, discuss new jobs and how the training will help mom or dad learn.
Sure, the kids might get bored (and probably will), but keeping this info handy will help them become smarter individuals.
Have them help
Technically, this takes place before your loved one ever leaves. Allow your kids to be involved in the getting-ready-to-leave process. Plan and wash laundry, fold clothes, get out the suitcase and start packing. Older kids can be in charge of a checklist and ensure everything has been added to the luggage.
No one likes training schedules or time away, but making your children a part of the process can ease their fears about mom or dad being away. Help your little ones add this coping mechanism to their toolbox of growing emotions.
When it’s time for travel or days away for your military member, don’t worry about the kids! They are smarter and more adaptable than we realize. Talking about what’s ahead and staying busy in the meantime will help the time pass in a way that’s healthy rather than taboo.