Filed under: Children
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.
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.
Once the initial excitement of returning home wears off, getting back into the family routine after deployment can often be difficult. Teenagers, who already have a lot of changes to worry about, can sometimes have a difficult time accepting the return of a family member from deployment. As the returning parent, you can do several things to help ease the transition back home:
- Let your teen know that you are sad to have missed important events in his or her life.
- Ask questions about what is going on in his or her life. Make an effort to get to know his or her friends.
- Finally, be sure to listen when he or she tells you about his or her feelings.
Taking these steps will allow your teen to open up to you and eventually will strengthen your relationship. For more tips, visit Real Warriors.
Strong sibling relationships are tied to good mental and emotional states, and more. A study by the University of Southern California shows that siblings appear to be deeply affected when a brother or sister decides to enlist in the military. While research shows that people in war-zone environments experience many sources of stress, the same sources of stress can in fact help bring family members closer together. As the sibling to a service member, it is important not only to accept the decision your brother or sister has made, but also to provide support—because it truly helps!
Distractions are a great way to help reduce stress, as they allow a child or teen to take his or her mind off of deployment—to a point. A great idea for parents is to provide plenty of opportunities for social activities (i.e., sports, clubs, etc.). Many of the sources of stress from a deployment have no ready solution, so distractions can be helpful. Providing events that families can partake in together (i.e., bowling, arts and crafts, etc.) are a great way to bring families together. Research shows that the most common forms of adolescent distractions are reading, drawing, playing computer games, listening to music, and playing with pets.
Throughout the duration of a deployment, communication with children is extremely important. Parents sometimes are unsure how much information they should communicate to their children, with good reason: research shows that too much information can be overwhelming and stressful for children. Operation R.E.A.D.Y. provides an interactive booklet that helps you explain the deployment process to your children. It’s important for a non-deployed parent to provide updates with regards to the deployment process, but it’s also okay to leave out some details.
Young children need consistency and predictability in the environment in which they grow up. Maintaining consistent expectations with regards to education, work, and family responsibilities is crucial in a child’s healthy development, as well as for family relations. A great way to achieve a sense of consistency is to create family rituals. MilitaryOneSource suggests rituals such as reading letters aloud during dinner and eating together as a family.
During deployment, the parent at home plays a pivotal role in providing support for their children. Recognizing signs of deployment-related stress allows you to intervene and prevent future concerns. In young children, signs include unexplained crying, sleep difficulties, eating difficulties, and fear of new people or situations. In adolescents, signs include acting out, misdirected anger, and loss of interest in hobbies. For more signs of distress, read this Military.com article.
Follow these tips to help your child cope with a parent’s deployment:
1) Increase your knowledge/awareness of deployment-related issues.
- Understand the various ways in which a family is affected by deployment.
- Understand the stages of the deployment cycle.
- Find ways to improve public awareness of the need for support within communities.
2) Increase your knowledge of and vigilance for depression and stress symptoms:
- Learn to recognize signs and symptoms of depression and other mental health concerns.
- Understand common emotional phases in children and teenagers during times of deployment.
3) Increase opportunities for connection and support:
- Show concern for your child. Many teens will refuse to express their concern over a deployment but will often respond to concern shown for them.
- Help kids form networks with peers who have gone through or are going through a parent’s deployment.
- Provide opportunities for activities to keep children distracted.
For more information and resources on how to support children and teens during deployment, visit the HPRC’s family skills section.