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HPRC Fitness Arena: Family & Relationships
Reconnecting with your family when you return from deployment presents unique challenges, especially with young children. Depending on how long you were deployed—a few months to a year or more—a lot could have happened in your child’s life while you were away. If you’re finding it hard to reconnect with your child, you’re not alone. Military Parenting’s website has tip sheets that describe typical behaviors for different stages: infant, toddler, preschooler, school-aged, and teen. Just knowing what’s typical for you child’s age can help you reestablish your relationship.
Reconnection can occur in small, everyday moments when you respond to your children’s needs and provide them with support and nurturing, such as holding them when they cry, playing games or sports together, being silly and laughing, taking a walk together, or eating dinner together and talking about your day.
For more tips on reconnecting, check out “Reestablishing Your Parental Role,” also from Military Parenting, a website devoted to parenting resources for Warfighters. For more tips on returning home, check out “Building Family Resilience...During and Following Deployment.”
Listening is half of communication. The other half is what you say and how you say it. The best way to express yourself is to be assertive. Assertive communication feels neither aggressive nor passive. It’s a balance between issuing a directive and being overly cooperative.
Communication between siblings can provide some good examples. Here’s the super directive approach: “You need to call me too. Don’t make me do all the work to keep up our relationship.” That may make sense, but the other person may not take it in because it triggers defensiveness. And here’s the overly cooperative approach: When your sibling says, “I hope you don’t mind that I never call,” you reply, “No, it’s okay, whatever you want is fine” (even if it isn’t). An assertive approach would be: “I’d really like to talk with you on the phone more, and I know you’re busy. What can we do to stay in better contact?”
The approach is basically a combination of “This is what I need” and “Can you join my team in figuring out a solution?” It’s straightforward and mutually empowering, opening the door for real communication. And for the other half of the communication equation, read last week’s article about how to be a good listener.
If you find yourself at odds with those around you more than you’d like, think about bolstering your communication skills. Communication is a key skill in all relationships, and half of this skill is knowing how to listen. “Active listening” lets your loved one, friends, and associates know that you heard them and understand their perspective. Active listening happens when the listener—you—takes part in the conversation, not just listens. Here’s how you do it:
- Repeat back to the other person the gist of what he or she just said.
- Reflect the other person’s feelings; that is, recognize out loud that you understand how he or she feels
- If you need clarification, ask for it in a gentle way.
- Show interest and curiosity in what the other person is saying.
To see what this might look like, watch this video from the Kansas National Guard about active and constructive communication. FOCUS has a handout on “Effective Communication Skills” that further describes this skill.
Have you heard of Total Force Fitness, but you aren’t sure what it is? It’s a framework for building and maintaining health, readiness, and performance in the Department of Defense. It views health, wellness, and resilience as a holistic concept that recognizes “total fitness” as a “state in which the individual, family and organization can sustain optimal well-being and performance under all conditions”—a connection between mind, body, spirit, and family/social relationships. Total fitness shifts the perspective from treatment to wellness and focuses on prevention and strengths.
The Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury created a slide presentation for units and groups on Total Force Fitness: A Brief Overview that describes what TFF is, its core components, and each of its eight “domains” (behavioral, social, physical, environmental, medical and dental, spiritual, nutritional, and psychological). For more in-depth reading, check out the original Military Medicine Supplement that started it all, including a scholarly chapter for each domain.
HPRC salutes Mother’s Day with special recognition of the mothers of Warfighters, mothers who are Warfighters, and Warfighters’ spouses who are mothers. HPRC works to help keep you and your Warfighter healthy, happy, and fit so that every day is Mother’s Day!
The daily grind can make it easy to forget to tell your spouse how much you appreciate him or her. This month, focus on showing your partner how much he or she means to you. There are many ways to show appreciation. One way is to write a “gratitude letter” in which you tell your partner in writing how his or her actions have affected your life in a positive way. Describe all the little things that you appreciate—from kindness toward others to making you a special dinner. Try to be specific so that he or she knows you put a lot of thought into it. And try not to expect something in return. The essence of gratitude is to give without expecting something in return.
For more ideas on fostering gratitude, read “Just the Facts: Resilience—Gratitude” from afterdeployment.org.
Good decision-making is crucial to mission success for any Warfighter. Advancements in technology can help build awareness of how people think (that is, how they remember and evaluate information) and even how they feel (recognizing “gut feelings” and what drives them). “Affective computing” and “wearable sensing” are no longer science fiction. Special bracelets or other articles of clothing can sense one’s needs in terms of exercise, diet, and sleep and can even be programmed to communicate physical or emotional needs to others. Optimal training can occur when emotions facilitate learning rather than impede it. And it doesn’t stop with training; “e-health” applications for mental health, delivered via smart phones or other small mobile devices, are promising, especially as the technology continues to advance.
One key resilience-building skill for military families is to create meaning from experiences. And as a family, you can share your understanding of challenging experiences or situations by having each family member explain his or her experience and perspective of a particular event. The event can be a specific situation or a period of time, such as the time when a family member was deployed. Together, your family can create a “picture” of the experience. Be creative! This can be with talk or with art or both.
Parents and other caregivers are essential to help children make sense of upsetting and/or challenging experiences. In addition, spouses can feel distant from each other due to their differing experiences, so creating a shared understanding can help bridge the divide. The process of creating a common understanding of a challenging event can help family members bond, understand the past better, and look to the future with more hope.
This is one of the resilience-building skills taught in the Families Overcoming Under Stress (FOCUS) program. To learn more about FOCUS (and their online resources) check out FOCUS World.
Having a resilient family isn’t something that just happens—it takes some effort. You can develop and improve your family’s resiliency by honing the skills you already have and developing new ones as needed. To give you a jump start, try doing 30 days of activities that will improve your relationships. The Families Overcoming Under Stress (FOCUS) resiliency program created a calendar of events you can do with your children that covers an entire month. Each activity teaches a skill that will strengthen your family over time. They highlight activities such as family fun nights and family meetings and teach skills such as deep breathing, goal setting, communication, and self-care. They also have many activities specifically for military families and children.
To learn other family-strengthening skills and activities, check out HPRC’s Rock Solid Families section.
- Stop what you are doing
- Take a few deep breaths and focus on the experience of breathing
- Observe your thoughts, feelings, and actions
- Proceed with new awareness
Like Warfighters, judges make very important decisions that affect peoples’ lives, but judges also are not immune to impacts of stress. Like everyone else under stress, they can thoughtlessly make quick decisions based on “rules of thumb,” but because we are human biases creep in, sometimes leading to bad decisions.
So, the STOP technique can be important too for Warfighters, spouses, parents, or anyone else looking to make good decisions when it matters. STOP-ping allows you to monitor and adjust your current stress in order to make good decisions.