More Tips to Talk to Kids About Deployment
Don't Make Too Many Promises
If a deployed parent is leading the conversation, remind your children why you joined the military in the first place and the importance of protecting America and people in other countries. "Explain that you have been trained well to do the job you will be doing, and that everything possible is being done to ensure that you will be safe and able to return home happy and healthy," Yehl Mara says.
Make it clear that while you're going to do your best to communicate regularly -- through letters, emails, or Skype -- there will be times when you might be unavailable. Yehl Marta also advises against promising your child that life won't change during the deployment period. While you'll do your best to keep up with the current routine, some changes and adjustments -- like the possibility of moving -- can happen. It's better to prepare your kids now than later.
Watch for Changes
Observe your kids for signs of stress, fear, depression, or anxiety. "When you see these signs, address them directly. Ask your kids how they're feeling. Let them have a safe place to share what they're experiencing. Brainstorm with your kids on joining military family support groups, speaking with a counselor, etc.," Wingate suggests. Expect the transition to be difficult, especially initially. "Kids of all ages will struggle to adapt to parental deployment. They may act out. Some grade-school-age children may revert to bedwetting; teens may exhibit anger or withdrawal. Manifestations of transition struggles can be expected, so be calm, patient, and reassuring," Wingate says.
Get Others Involved
Inform your child's teachers, coaches, day-care workers, babysitters, and other parents about the deployment so they can help support your child and watch out for any changes in behavior. If your child is older, he may have friends who have questions about the deployment. "Help your child feel proud about the deployed parent so he can respond proudly to kids at school, especially those who might challenge or 'question' the deployment," Dumler says. "Not everyone is supportive of the war [in the Middle East], so it's important to understand the impact that damaging words can have on your child. Talk with him about insensitive remarks others could make so he can put the remarks in perspective." Consider putting your child in touch with another family that has experienced deployment. Sometimes it's easier for kids to talk to each other about their feelings than with their parents.
Return to the Discussion
Don't have just a one-time conversation. Your children may not have any questions during the initial sit-down (they might be too shocked or scared to think of anything), so real talking may not happen until after they've had time to think about the deployment. Older kids might want to be left alone for a while to deal with their feelings. Don't push or try to force a conversation right away. "Let them know you'll be there if they need you," Dumler says. But remember that there's more going on in your kids' lives than just deployment, so make time to talk about topics like school, sports, and friends. The lines of communication should stay open, so schedule weekly family meetings.
Copyright © 2012 Meredith Corporation.