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HPRC Fitness Arena: Family & Relationships
Family separations in the military have the added stress of uncertainty. For that reason, couples may need to make additional effort in order to communicate well while separated. Two studies offer tips for how to handle communication during deployment.
One recent study examined communication between military husbands and their wives during deployment. Interviews with wives of deployed Warfighters revealed that couples can deal better with the stress of being separated by balancing talk of everyday things with more meaningful conversations. Couples generally seemed to benefit from keeping deployment communication similar to non-deployment communication in both planned and spontaneous discussions.
Another study examined communication during deployment, as well as PTSD after deployment, and found that the positive impact of emails, care packages, and letters depended on how happy participants were with their relationships. More emails, packages, or letters during deployment sent between happier couples was associated with lower PTSD symptoms post-deployment.
Both of these findings suggest that strong, happy relationships play an important role before, during, and after deployment. For more ideas and tips for optimizing your communication and/or relationships, visit HPRC’s Family & Relationships domain.
It’s normal for relationships to go through ups and downs, and at times it can be difficult to know whether to work through things alone or seek help from a professional. The Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center's website has a list of questions to help you assess your relationship. Given your responses, they suggest whether you should see a counselor or doctor or try self-help strategies. Common issues that couples face include communication difficulties, power struggles, money conflicts, and differences in parenting styles. You'll find self-help tips in the following areas:
- Communication. Learn how to communicate more effectively with “I”-statements, perspective taking, timing, omitting distractions, and sharing issues.
- Jealousy. Learn how to handle jealousy, with tips such as focusing on the importance of the relationship, expressing your emotions, communicating, being supportive, and helping to solve problems together.
- Sex. Talk to one another about your needs so you can work together on areas where your desires are compatible.
- Money. More tips help you handle money matters such as budgeting, credit history, and credit card advice.
For additional information, you can also visit the Relationship Skills section of HPRC’s website.
An interesting program for optimizing children’s health focuses on four specific behaviors that parents and children can use for health and wellness: Let’s Go!’s "5-2-1-0".
5—Eat at least five fruits and vegetables today – more is better!
2—Cut screen time down to two hours or less a day (no screen time for under age of two).
1—Participate in at least one hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day.
0—Zero sugar-sweetened sodas, sports drinks, and fruit drinks. Instead drink water and three or four servings a day of fat-free or one-percent milk.
For ideas about how to incorporate fruits and vegetables into daily meals, visit the MyPlate.gov KidsHealth website.
The 2012 Warrior Resilience Conference in March highlighted the importance of the “social domain” to Total Force Fitness. The social domain was defined as relationships in the unit, and family (immediate and extended family and friends). “Family fitness” was defined as the family’s use of physical, psychological, and spiritual resources to prepare, adapt, and grow in challenging times.
The conference was geared towards the line and focused on teaching skills and strategies that participants can instantly apply in their units and families and to bolster individual resilience. The conference highlighted skills that Warfighters and family members are already “bringing to the fight,” how to use them in new ways, and how to add new ones from a holistic perspective. Skills from military programs such as FOCUS, Comprehensive Soldier Fitness, and Combat Operational Stress Control (COSC) were taught in breakout sessions along with information on family physical fitness and nutritional strategies.
HPRC is following up with many of the presenters to see if we can provide their information on the HPRC website, so keep an eye on our Family and Relationships section.
In this fifth and final week of strategies you can use to help your children and teens weather the deployment of a parent, we take a look at how you can use the experience to strengthen your family.
Week #5 tips: Honor the family strengths.
- Deployment and reintegration can be times of family strength and growth. Look at these as opportunities to practice new roles and routines that can be helpful as your family adapts to the challenges of deployment and reintegration.
- Recognize the growth of your adolescent when you return from your deployment. Many teens feel like they’ve matured during their parent’s absence and feel hurt when this goes unacknowledged. In fact, acknowledging and communicating growth and transformations for each member of the family can be a great family activity to build positive relationships.
Children grow and change over the course of a deployment, and service members can sometimes miss events and milestones. Here are some practical strategies you can keep in mind during reintegration to help your children and teenagers.
Week #4 tips: Strategies you can use during reintegration.
- When a deployed parent returns, slowly transition the roles and responsibilities of each family member at home, but don’t forget the individual needs of each person as well as the family as a whole.
- Let your children know that you love them unconditionally, but still provide clear expectations and boundaries.
- Brainstorm a list of fun activities to do as a family.
- Devote one-on-one time with each child when you return home in order to get reacquainted with your children.
- Demonstrate how to cope well with emotions. For example, children can be taught emotion management. One tool is called a “feeling thermometer.” Family members can monitor and control their feelings using the picture of a temperature thermometer to manage stress when the temperature is too high.
This week we offer some practical strategies to help you to keep the lines of communication open with your teens about deployment and post-deployment reintegration.
Week #3 tips: Maintain open communication with your teenager.
- The most important strategy to use especially with teens is to maintain open communication about concerns, emotions, and questions.
- Encourage your teens and children to speak out about their thoughts and feelings to their loved ones. It not only helps manage their emotions, but it also helps foster closer family relationships.
- Stay close to your teen or child while you are deployed using the technology they love: smartphones, Twitter, Facebook, email, etc.
- Reinforce your teenager’s growing autonomy while you rebuild and maintain your relationship in new and flexible ways. Let your teen choose how much he or she wants to stay in touch; take a hint from how—and how often—they respond to you reaching out.
- You also can encourage your teens and children to create a “scrapbook” of videos, pictures, stories, and relevant events that took place while their parent was deployed so experiences can be shared during and after deployment.
The goal of National Nutrition Month is to remind Americans to eat healthy and choose foods with good nutrition. The FDA’s theme for 2012 is “Remember to Use the Nutrition Facts Label.” One tool you can use to help make good food choices is the Nutrition Facts label that appears on all packaged foods and beverages. To learn how to read labels, visit the FDA’s web page “Nutrition Facts Label Programs and Materials.”
Here are some additional practical strategies and tips you as a parent can use to help your children and teens cope with deployment and the post-deployment reintegration process.
Week #2 tips: Easing deployment and reintegration
- Before deployment: If you’re being deployed, try recording your own audio books so your child can listen to your voice during your deployment. This also will help your child stay connected to you by continuing family routines such as reading before bed.
- During deployment: Depending on their age, kids don’t understand timeframes as well as adults do. If you continue to remind them of future plans during and after the deployed parent’s return, it will help them deal with the separation and reunion.
- Try referring to the deployed parent’s absence as work instead of just saying that he or she is gone. This helps children realize that the absent parent didn’t simply choose to leave them, which could make for a better reunion.
- Before the deployed parent returns, talk about what issues to address when he or she does. And plan activities you can share together.
- Throughout the deployment cycle: Be aware of mental health symptoms for children of all ages. If needed, join your children or teenagers in group counseling; it can be a helpful forum where everyone can discuss experiences, feelings, and thoughts.
Many children and teenagers born and raised in military families learn to adapt to their parent’s deployment and return and become more resilient as a result. However, no family is immune to stress. Learning what strategies work best for your family—and each family member—is important for optimal performance over the long run.
Over the next five weeks, HPRC will suggest some practical strategies that you can use as a parent to help your children and teens to cope with deployment and post-deployment reintegration.
Week #1 tips: Try talking with your child about any phase of deployment.
- Help your children stay in touch with their deployed parent—whether through phone calls, videos, or email. Keeping the absent parent up-to-date with events on the home front helps make the homecoming easier.
- Talk about changes that occur during deployment. If your child doesn’t want to talk, encourage expression through playing or drawing.
- Allow and encourage your children to ask any questions they may have regarding deployment—before, during, and after—and give them open, honest, and age-appropriate answers.