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Filed under: Communication

How to reconnect with your child after deployment

When you return from deployment, keep in mind your child’s current developmental needs and use these tips to help you reconnect.

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.”

Assert yourself and be heard

Assertive communication is neither aggressive nor passive. It is both directive and cooperative.

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.

Communicate better by listening better

Amp up your communication skills. Improve the other half of the conversation with “active listening.”

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.

Tips for staying in touch during deployment

Deploying soon? Think about a game plan for communicating with your loved one. HPRC offers some tips.

Deployment can be a challenge for couples, but it can also be a time of potential growth for a relationship. Questions invariably arise such as, “How much should I share with my partner? How often can we talk?” Some couples easily develop a dynamic that works for them; for others, the feeling of closeness is hard to hold on to when one partner is far away. Whether it’s your first deployment or you’re a seasoned veteran, here are some tips you can add to your deployment arsenal:

  • Balance talk of "everyday" things with more-intimate conversations about deeper feelings and meaning.
  • When there’s a lull in communication, whether it’s a day or a few weeks (due to mission requirements), think about creative ways to stay feeling connected such as journaling, burning video-diary messages on a DVD, or writing cards or letters.
  • Communicate marriage-related emotions that come up during deployment; don’t put them off for later.
  • If you’ve been through deployments before, think and talk about what worked for each of you and what you would like to do next time. Sometimes couples want the same things, but more often each person has different or even opposing wants. When this happens, it’s a good time to practice problem solving to find compromises that address each person’s desires as much as possible.
  • Take good care of yourself and use your favorite stress-management techniques. Stress can increase the likelihood of getting into fights with your loved ones!
  • Finally, don’t forget to weave appreciation for your partner into your conversations; read "Thankful for you?" to learn why appreciation is important for couples.

But most important: Figure out what works best for you. For more ideas on strengthening relationships check out HPRC’s Relationship Enhancement section.

Build a better team

Group “cohesiveness” can contribute to Warfighter success. Learn how groups can establish and foster it.

There are so many parts to being successful in theater that it can be tough to pinpoint what contributes to success. But research has established one part—cohesiveness—that does help Warfighter performance. In fact, cohesiveness—a group’s ability to remain united while pursuing its goals and objectives—is an important piece of the puzzle for any successful group, whether we’re talking about sports teams, squads, platoons, or other kinds.

Cohesiveness can be social (among people who like each other) or task-focused (among people who work well together) or both. In groups such as athletic teams, connecting with a task focus is far more important for performance than connecting socially. Connecting through a task focus is clearly important for Warfighters too, but the stakes are higher: Warfighters often put their lives—not the outcome of a game—in each other’s hands. And cohesiveness has other benefits, such as helping with job satisfaction and overall well-being.

In order to build and maintain team/unit cohesion, experts suggest the following:

  • Use influence effectively—for collective gain, not individual gain.
  • Communicate clearly—give clear expectations for roles, performance, and deadlines, and offer praise.
  • Minimize conflict between unit members.
  • Build trust within the unit and with leadership by showing interest and concern for one another.
  • Establish a positive command climate that supports teamwork yet allows for each member’s independence.
  • Have a shared sense of responsibility for the overall welfare of everyone in the unit and the team as a whole.
  • Value connections within the team as well as between units and organizations.
  • Focus on the strengths of the group, not just its problems and challenges.
  • Build resilience at the individual and group level.

Warfighters and leaders can shape norms—both formally through policy and informally through practice—so that units/groups stick together on multiple levels. For more information on building relationships visit HPRC’s Family & Relationships domain, and for more information about Total Force Fitness check out HPRC’s Total Force Fitness domain.

Keeping family relationships strong

Maintaining strong family relationships can require some new skills or perspectives over time. Learn some relationship skills that are relevant for many families, but especially for the military lifestyle.

More than likely you’ve learned some great and helpful relationship skills through the years to keep your relationships strong. It can often be helpful to add some more to your tool belt to keep things going well (or to get them back on track). Check out HPRC’s “Keeping Strong Family Relationships for Military Life” for some strategies.

Test your relationship’s “thinking traps”

Are you drawing false conclusions in your relationship? Learn how to question yourself to find out.

How we interpret events or interactions has a big impact on how we react to them. We all fall victim to “thinking traps” from time to time, and HPRC’s recent article identifies common traps and suggests strategies for dealing with them. Your personal relationships are particularly prone to thinking traps that can lead you to draw false conclusions. For example, let’s say you’ve been married for some time now and recently find yourself thinking your partner doesn’t love you any more because she/he no longer says so.

One way to address this kind of thinking trap is to ask yourself—or have a friend ask you—questions that make you think about the reasoning or evidence behind what you’re thinking. Some examples are:

  • What specifically makes you think that he/she doesn’t love you any more?
  • What did he/she do in the past that made you feel loved?
  • Are there any other possible explanations that might explain your partner’s behavior, such as job stress, an ailing parent, children acting out, or recent return from deployment?
  • When you think back to the beginning of your relationship, how could you tell he/she loved you? Was it something (s)he said? Or what (s)he did?
  • Has your behavior toward him/her changed recently?

Such questions can get you to start thinking logically by taking a close look at what’s behind what you’re thinking—the real evidence and surroundings of the situation. Sometimes it can help you gain perspective to write down the answers to these questions. Once you’ve gone through this self-questioning process, it’s possible you’ll find a different interpretation of your partner’s behavior. Maybe you were just caught up in a thinking trap.

For more ideas on strengthening your relationship, check out HPRC’s Relationship Enhancement section. And for specific strategies on changing your relationship dynamic, check out HPRC’s Performance Strategy on Couples Communication.

Having the same conversation over and over?

Going over the same things again and again in your relationship—with no new results? Learn how to break that cycle.

Do you ever feel that you and your partner talk about the same issues over and over again? You’re not alone: Only 30% or so of the problems couples struggle with can actually be solved, leading to discussions that keep coming up about the other 70%. Solving the issues that can be solved is great, but learning how to interact in a positive manner about the “perpetual problems” is a good skill in any relationship.

One way to do this is to go through a structured problem-solving strategy such as this:

  1. Specifically state the issue.
  2. Briefly state why the issue is important.
  3. Brainstorm and discuss possible solutions to the issue.
  4. Have everyone involved agree on a realistic “solution”—even if it’s just a game plan for how each person is going to respond about the topic.
  5. Pick a specific amount of time to try the solution.
  6. Then give the solution a try.

Remember, the “solution” doesn’t have to mean a resolution to the problem; it can just be about new ways to approach the issue. For example, if you fight over one of you being late frequently, discuss ahead of time how you each would like the other person to respond. Maybe the latecomer needs to call or text if running late, or the punctual person calls ahead to find out if the other will be on time. And maybe you need to set a window of time rather than something exact.

For more tips on communication between two people, check out “Basic Training for Couples—Communication” and more in HPRC’s Relationship Enhancement section.

In the middle of a fight, change your focus

If fights with your loved ones last longer than the argument itself, then check out this strategy for refocusing your mind and calming your body.

When you find yourself in an argument with a loved one, it’s important to be able to move on afterwards without being burdened by negative feelings. But sometimes the negativity can hang on after the argument itself is over, and can make interacting with the other person difficult. It’s important to work out those negative feelings so that they don’t fester and wreak more havoc in your relationships.

Here’s how: When you find yourself in the middle of an argument, take a time-out before you become too worked up. It’s easier to shake off negativity at this stage. Stay levelheaded enough to stop the argument, walk away, focus on something else, and make yourself focus on positive thoughts about yourself, something else, or your loved one. While you are doing this, also engage in some stress-management techniques such as deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation; you can learn about them in the Mind-Body Skills section of HPRC’s website. By refocusing your thoughts and letting go of stress in your body, you’re more likely to feel calmer, slow your heart rate, and be less reactive to the other person. Once you’re calmer, you’ll probably find it easier to interact more positively with the other person and do or say things that can enhance your relationship.

For more ideas on strengthening your relationships, check out HPRC’s Relationship Enhancement section or this article on “Basic Training for Couples Communication.” And for more information on handling stress, check out HPRC’s Stress Management section.

Noise pollution and hearing loss

HPRC Fitness Arena: Environment, Total Force Fitness
Helicopter propellers, jet engines, explosions, moving vehicles, gunfire and more—all sources of noise pollution that troops may experience in the line of duty—can affect one’s health, especially hearing.

Being able to hear well is crucial for a Warfighter, not only for effective communication but also for survival. Noise-related hearing loss, including tinnitus, can be a tactical risk for individual and unit effectiveness. Blast injuries from improvised explosive devices (IEDs), RPGs, and mortar rounds are the largest cause of hearing loss for forces in Iraq. Unfortunately, it has become an "invisible" injury and an accepted outcome of military service. Compensation payments for hearing loss as the primary disability increased 319% between 2001 and 2006. While the military has done extensive research and established standards regarding noise and noise exposure, here are a few things you can do to help minimize the effects of this occupational hazard.

  • Wear hearing protectors when firing weapons or traveling in noisy vehicles or aircraft.
  • Make sure that earplugs such as combat arms earplugs (CAE) fit properly to protect your hearing and still communicate effectively.
  • Replace lost or damaged hearing protectors as soon as possible.
  • Limit exposure to “annoying noise” during normal daily activities. Trying to ignore noise can increase heart rate and blood pressure, cause sleep difficulties, and lead other negative health consequences.
  • Report any signs of hearing loss as soon as possible.

While there is currently no cure for tinnitus, there are treatments available. Noise pollution may be an inevitable part of serving in the military, but it doesn’t have to leave you with a permanent reminder. Do what you can to help hold on to your hearing.

The DoD Hearing Center of Excellence is committed to preventing, treating, and rehabilitating hearing loss and auditory injury for service members and veterans. The HCE offers evidence-based clinical care in collaboration with other organizations and Centers of Excellence to improve quality of life and raise awareness about noise pollution and occupational safety.

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