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Filed under: Children

Look over there! Diverting deployment stress

Distractions are a great way to keep a child’s mind off of deployment stressors.

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.

Communication is key

Proper communication between parents and children during deployment can reduce the risk of potential behavioral concerns.

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.

A little consistency goes a long way

Creating and maintaining family rituals is a great way to reduce stress for parents and children.

 

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.

Recognizing signs of distress in children

Parents play a crucial role in helping children cope with deployment. Learning to recognize signs of distress can help prevent depression in children.

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.

Tips for helping children cope with deployment

HPRC recommends three ways to help provide youth with support during deployment.

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.

              Lean on me: Providing support for children

              Minimize relocation for youth through relying on support systems.

              During times of deployment, children and teenagers often look for support from the people in their lives—family, teachers, and friends—to help them deal with the stress of having a parent deployed. A good support system helps by listening, understanding, and providing comfort. Children often will respond to those who show concern for them and to those who understand life in the military. Provide support by listening to what your child has to say and by helping them understand their situation.

              Restaurants offering healthier kids’ meals

              HPRC Fitness Arena: Family & Relationships, Nutrition
              Restaurants are starting to offer healthier menu items for children, limiting unhealthy fats, added sugars, and sodium.

              With the rise of obesity among children, restaurants are stepping up to help combat the issue by offering healthier menu items for children. Focusing more on fruits and vegetables, lean protein, and low-fat dairy items, the new initiative “Kids LiveWell” is working with restaurants to offer meals that are lower in unhealthy fats, added sugars, and sodium. Read more about this initiative at Kids LiveWell.

              Sleep as a child is linked to body weight as an adult

              HPRC Fitness Arena: Family & Relationships
              Children under age 11 who don't get enough sleep are more likely to become overweight as adults.

              The amount of sleep a person gets prior to the age of 11 has been associated with adult body weight.  A 2008 study in the Journal of Pediatrics of 1037 individuals found that shorter sleep times at age 5, 7, 9, and 11 were associated with higher Body Mass Index (BMI) at age 32. This relationship does not depend on BMI as a child, socioeconomic status, TV watching, adult physical activity and smoking, and BMI of a person’s parents.

              Strategies to impact your well-being: Wrapping up

              HPRC Fitness Arena:
              Here are some thoughts to wrap up the series we presented over the past four weeks on how to improve your overall well-being through “savoring” strategies.

              Several weeks ago we started a series on strategies for processing emotions. We have described four "savoring" strategies and four "dampening" strategies. Using more of the savoring strategies and fewer of the dampening strategies can help positive feelings linger from positive experiences. But you must also make sure you use strategies that match your personality and lifestyle. In this research study, those who used multiple savoring strategies (and avoided more of the dampening strategies) were the happiest. The authors also suggest staying in the moment when something positive happens to you and once the moment has passed, stepping back and savoring the experience. Take a moment now to review the tips from weeks one, two, three, and four.

              To learn additional well-being strategies for your happiness toolkit, visit the HPRC's Mind Tactics domain, as well as the Defense Centers of Excellence Mind-Body Strategies website and White Paper.

              The Military Family Fitness Model

              The Warfighter’s greatest support usually comes from his or her family, yet families also have to deal with the stress of military life. The Joint Services and the DoD have teamed up to develop a framework for additional support and resources to help families cope with the increased pace of deployment.

              Since the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, approximately two million U.S. troops have deployed. The operational tempo associated with these conflicts has led to longer and more frequent deployments with fewer rest periods in between. The inevitable stress is a challenge for military and civilian communities, even as families work hard to reintegrate their families and normal routines.

              In response to these ongoing demands, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff directed the development of the Total Force Fitness (TFF) initiative, a new Department of Defense model that focuses on the health, readiness, and performance of our Warfighters. (See the Total Force Fitness section of HPRC’s website for more information on this initiative.)

              Following this initiative, a team of Joint-Service and DoD experts lead by COL Bowles of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USUHS) came together to create a model that promotes family fitness, resilience, and optimal well-being for service members and their families. This model, which is still in development, is called The Military Family Fitness Model (MFFM).

              The MFFM first examines stress-inducing demands placed on military and civilian families from sudden deployment and the return home. Then, looking to build on the resilience of the family, MFFM provides guidelines, skills, and resources for the individual, family, and community to protect against the negative effects of stress. As sources of stress increase, certain behaviors indicate the need for more support (e.g., family strife, children acting out, job instability for non-service members, family role conflict, non-supportive relationships outside the family, and/or domestic violence). With MFFM, families have individual, family, and community resources for additional support. The aim of the model is to foster a multi-level approach that strengthens family resilience and, as a result, Warfighter resilience.

              Individual approaches to addressing stress include breathing exercises, yoga, mindfulness exercises, and cognitive restructuring. Family strategies include developing and maintaining strong communication skills, shared family routines, and the building of support networks. The bottom line of the MFFM is that at any point along the model, individuals, families, and communities can strengthen resilience resources to promote total family resilience and fitness.

              Members of the MFFM team presented the Military Family Fitness Model at the USDA/DoD Family Resilience conference at the end of April. We encourage you to get more information on the conference presentation, read the abstract, and see the PowerPoint slides presented.

              DCoE's (Defense Centers of Excellence) report [PDF] on the Family Conference can be read here.

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