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HPRC Fitness Arena: Family & Relationships
Members of the military community know how hard it can be to be separated during deployments for months at a time, but even with miles between your loved ones, there are ways to communicate and connect. October 26th marks the Day of the Deployed, a day set aside to recognize the devotion and sacrifice of our military personnel who serve and their families who live outside our nation. The National Day of the Deployed pays tribute to those whose military service has sent them outside the United States to ensure its safety and security.
Lengths and frequency of deployments are always changing. Most service members have been deployed at least once and often for stretches of 3.5–12 months. One way service members can communicate with people back home is through letters. In fact, writing letters can help improve relationship satisfaction more than other forms of communication. It’s easier to ensure privacy with a letter than with email or phone. More importantly, letters provide the writer opportunities to reread their work and take the time to express what they really mean.
There is no best formula for what to write in your letter. Couples can agree on rules for communication by talking through and finding agreement on what works well for both partners, such as staying away from certain topics. It’s sometimes best to keep the focus positive, saving tense topics for later. Some may prefer to keep open communication to help maintain a sense of intimacy. Keep the guesswork out of what to write by talking about it, and then enjoy the connection you experience through letter writing.
Identity theft can completely disrupt your life and ruin your credit history if you don’t catch it quickly, so learn what you need to do. So, what is identity theft? It’s a serious crime in which someone assumes your identity by using your personal information or property—typically your Social Security number or credit cards—without your permission. There are three basic types of identity theft:
- Unauthorized or attempted use of existing credit cards
- Unauthorized or attempted use of existing checking accounts
- Unauthorized or attempted use of personal information to obtain credit cards, accounts, or loans or to commit other crimes
If your home is unoccupied for an extended time, it may be a goldmine for thieves to dig through trashcans, dumpsters, or storage areas for documents with useful pieces of information. Even if you’re home, it could be as easy as stealing a credit card from your mailbox or wallet.
When you’re getting ready for deployment, you can place an active duty alert on your credit reports that lasts for one calendar year. For more information about protecting your credit, review the Federal Trade Commission pamphlet Identity Theft – Military Personnel & Families. If it’s too late for prevention, visit FTC’s Identity Theft web page for information about how to recover.
It’s a good idea to have a choice of coping strategies to meet the specific needs of each situation you face—some “problem-focused” and some “emotion-focused.” During severe stress, you might find that your old ways of dealing with problems aren’t doing enough to help. For example, your preferred way of coping in the past might have been venting to a friend about something you couldn’t control. But now you may be overlooking direct actions you can take to fix the problem. Or perhaps you’ve always been an action-oriented problem-solver but now, even though it’s unfamiliar to talk with others about what’s bothering you, you might simply need someone to be a good listener. Take stock of your current coping strategies. We offer some suggestions here for how you can expand your arsenal. Consider which ones might be most useful for you personally in various situations.
Disagreements aren’t necessarily bad. Good relationships hinge on being able to communicate different viewpoints effectively, express yourself well, and really hear your partner. Here are some communication tips:
- Start gently. Being direct is good, but you don’t need to dive in so hard and fast that you trigger defensiveness.
- Own how you feel. You can be direct about how you feel without blaming anyone. And when you’re drawn into a fruitless argument over who’s to blame, it’s difficult to argue about how you feel. Consider saying, “I felt totally unimportant” rather than “You totally ignored me.”
- Really listen. Summarize what you heard without defensiveness. Really tune into how your partner feels and communicate that in your summary, even if you don’t agree with why he or she feels that way.
- Criticize behaviors, NOT character. It’s important to talk about specific actions that upset you. Rather than categorizing your partner as “the kind of person who…,” stay focused on a specific and recent behavior.
- Always be respectful. Resist destructive temptations such as insults or name-calling; staying respectful is crucial for long-term communication success.
- Hang in there. Problems often can’t be solved right away, but when talking together, persevere rather than escape: Don’t “zone out,” and don’t storm away.
Chances are that neither you nor your partner is a mean person. Nonetheless, because you’re human, your worst behaviors can come out during a difficult conversation. You might be aggressive, blame the other person, stop caring what the other person has to say, or you might work to avoid arguments altogether. But it doesn’t have to happen this way. Following the tips above will help you communicate constructively. For more on these kinds of strategies check out Basic Training for Couples Communication.
Trust is an important part of relationships. It allows you to feel secure, depend on others, and take important risks with co-workers, family, and other important people. Whether as a team member or a partner, trust positively impacts commitment. Trust also tends to happen in two directions: You trust others and they trust you. You can’t force trust, but there are some concrete steps you can take to foster trust—to help you feel more trusting of others and to help others trust you more. It’s especially helpful to focus on what’s in your control, that is, on what you can do. Read more here.
When a wounded, ill or injured service member returns home, his or her life has significantly changed, and so have the lives of the caregivers and family. DoD recognizes the importance of the caregiver and family in the recovery process. However, caregiving can be stressful, and you run the risk of burnout when you focus solely on others without time to recharge. So it’s important to take time for yourself too. Read on to learn HPRC’s top tips for caregivers and families.
The condition known as “dental caries” is the most common and chronic childhood illness, but you can help your child avoid it. Bacteria that build up on your children’s teeth and produce acid can destroy enamel and dentin, leading to decay, infection, and cavities. Thankfully, there are a few simple ways to prevent this.
- If your young child uses bottles, make sure you put your child to sleep without a bottle.
- Avoid continual use of a bottle or sippy cup, especially with fluids other than water.
- Limit sugary foods and drinks, and the latter should include only 100% juice.
- Allow less than 4–6 oz. of 100% fruit juice per day.
- Start brushing your child’s teeth twice a day as soon as their teeth are visible.
- Use no more than a pea size dot of fluoride toothpaste for children 3 and up and a dab the size of a grain of rice for younger children.
- Take your child to a dentist before the age of one.
- Parents and caregivers can spread bacteria to babies and children accidentally, so take care of your own teeth! And it’s a good idea not to put food or other items into your child’s mouth after they’ve been in your mouth, especially if you have a history of cavities.
If you use these simple tips, you can strengthen your child’s teeth throughout childhood. For more information, check out the American Academy of Pediatrics article “Brushing up on oral health: never too early to start.”
When stress threatens to overload you, be careful it doesn’t spill over into your relationships. Stress can make you less patient with your loved ones, less able to solve problems well, and more disagreeable.
When you’re under a lot of stress, you’re also more likely to feel negative about your relationships. This generally leads to more fighting, which can be especially tough for military families if one of you deploys or leaves for training before you’re able to rebalance your relationship and de-stress. While you’re apart, negative feelings can fester and further damage your relationship.
But just knowing about how stress can impact your relationships is the first step. Next time you feel stressed out, don’t let it fester. Instead, do something about it. To ease your stress, you can try:
- Deep breathing or another mind-body skill that can switch you from your body’s stress response to its relaxation response.
- Exercise, which can make you feel better and lower your stress.
- Something just for fun, which can take your mind off your stress.
- Connecting with a loved one. Feeling loved and supported can also reduce stress.
Finally, if you’re apart from your loved one, set aside time regularly to connect to him or her, regardless of the last fight you had. Try to give each other benefit of the doubt and move past the argument. You can always finish discussing it when he or she returns.
Deployment and other military-related separations can be tough on families, but many families can (and do) learn how to adapt to them. The regular rounds of separations that come with military life require constant adaptation. Naturally, when a partner is away from the family for a certain period of time (such as during deployment or training), those at home have to shift their roles and responsibilities to cover for the person who’s away, especially with regard to childcare. When the service member returns home, then the family must shift roles again. These “accordion families” continuously contract and expand as members of the family are physically present or absent. Some families handle this smoothly, but others find it to be one additional hurdle to overcome again and again.
There are two important things you can do to help manage these repeat transitions:
- Work on everyone in the family communicating well.
- Try to stay as emotionally connected as you can while apart.
Of course, these tips are easier said than done. Think about how you usually handle separations: Do you emotionally distance yourself from your partner? Do you become more “needy”? How does your partner respond? Do you both do the same things, or do you have opposing emotional needs when apart? If you have children, how do your children respond?
If you have different emotional needs, this can create instant conflict and feelings of distance. One way around this is to talk about what you each need, figure out where there’s common ground, and make a game plan that can fulfill each person’s needs as much as possible while at home and when apart.
You can use the strategy on HPRC's card on communication skills to help better navigate these kinds of conversations. Plus, remember to not fall prey to these common thinking traps that create misunderstandings in relationships.
Helping your kids limit their screen time can be difficult, but it could be the key to keeping your kids healthy. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting the total amount of entertainment screen time to only 1–2 hours a day, with no screen time for kids under the age of two. Yet the average 8-year-old spends 8 hours a day in front of a screen, and teenagers can even exceed 11 hours a day. That’s a lot of sitting around! The more time kids sit in front of a screen, the less time they spend being active, and the more likely they are to become overweight.
Here are some tips to help reduce screen time and, in turn, promote fitness:
- Keep the TV and Internet-enabled devices out of bedrooms.
- Stay informed: Monitor what media your kids are using, such as websites or social media applications.
- Watch movies and shows with your children. As a bonus you can use the entertainment as a way of discussing important family values and finding out what they think about certain scenarios.
- Make a family home-use plan for your media. For example, set a mealtime and bedtime curfew for cell phones and other devices. Establish some reasonable but firm rules.
- Be a role model. Encourage and join your kids in different outdoor activities.