When it comes to children & deployment, it’s important to prepare children for an upcoming deployment as soon as possible. A deployment can affect a child (no matter the age) just as a divorce can.
Here are some tips taken from various sources to help ease the transition into deployment:
Make sure children know they are loved. Children always seem to blame themselves when there is turmoil in the family. Separations (even ones that the parents have no control over)
Be Honest. Honesty is always the best key, especially when dealing with children who are very perceptive to their surroundings. As soon as the servicemember starts preparing for training or deployment, sit your child(ren) down and explain what is going on, when it will happen, and answer any questions they may have.
Share Feelings. It’s important for family members especially the parents to share their feelings about the deployment or upcoming training with their children. Let them know that it is ok and normal to feel angry and sad and that you also feel the same way.
Explore the Destination. Show your child on a map where you will be headed. Check out age appropriate books from the library of that destination so they can see what type of climate and geographical region you will be in as well as what the culture is like.
Communicate with Teachers. If your child is school age, it is very important to keep your child’s teacher(s) informed of your upcoming deployment. This will allow the teacher to keep an eye on any behavior changes during school and allow them to understand why you child may be behaving differently or all of a sudden having issues with learning and paying attention.
Design an Activity to Pass Time Together. It can be as simple as choosing the same book to read and committing to read one chapter a day, or writing in a journal daily so at the end of the deployment you can swap journals to read how the other one spent their day! (Highly recommended for spouses as well)!
Let Your Child Help You Pack. Letting your child help you pack will give them a sense of taking care of you. If they say you need that teddy bear, by golly you need that teddy bear! It will allow them to feel more involved in the process.
Spend Quality Time Together. With the hustle and bustle of an upcoming deployment we sometimes forget to plan quality memory making time together. You don’t have to plan a trip, it can be as simple as going to a park or having a picnic. Make sure to take plenty of pictures during your outings together so your child will be able to look at them once you leave.
Create a Care Package. After you have left have your child create his/her own care package to the servicemember. Allow them to pick out what will go in the package and allow them to decorate it as they see fit.
Signs of Distress
Even the best laid plans fail sometimes and no matter how much you have prepared your child for their parents time away they may still become distressed. This is completely normal (after all even adults become distressed when their loved one is away). Here are some signs that can help you identify when your child may be under distress (source: Military.com):
Preschool or Kindergarten Age Children
Clinging to people or favorite toy or blanket.
Unexplained crying or tearfulness.
Choosing adults over same-age play mates.
Increased acts of violence toward people or things.
Shrinking away from people or becoming very quiet.
Sleep difficulties or disturbances (waking, bad dreams)
Eating difficulties or change in eating patterns.
Fear of new people or situations.
Keeps primary care giver in view.
Any of the signs listed above, and:
A rise in complaints about stomachaches, headaches, or other illnesses.
More irritable and crabby.
Problems at school (drop in grades, does not want to go, or general complaining)
Anger toward at-home parent.
Any of the signs listed above, and:
Acting out behaviors (trouble at school, home, law)
Low self-esteem and self-criticism.
Misdirected anger (lots of anger over small things; directed at siblings/parent)
Sudden or unusual school problems.
Loss of interest in usual interests and hobbies.
Other Useful Links
Military Kids Connect: Offers an online community for military children (ages 6-17) that provides access to age-appropriate resources to support children coping with the unique psychological challenges of military live.