Filed under: Families
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.
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.
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.”
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 in HPRC's Performance Strategies for communication 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.
Recovery Care Coordinators (RCC) help wounded, ill, and injured service members, their caregivers, and their families navigate the recovery, rehabilitation, and reintegration process. They help ensure a smooth transition from a recovery and rehabilitation setting back into the civilian community or, in some instances, back to military duty. An RCC is the first point of contact within each of the military services’ wounded warrior programs. RCCs are located at military treatment facilities and installations throughout the country and overseas. Referral to RCCs can come from the service member, a caregiver, a family member, medical personnel, or a wounded warrior program. For more information on the referral process (and for contact numbers), read this factsheet.
How do RCCs help support service members, their caregivers, and their families during what is often a difficult and stressful period in their lives? The RCC develops a comprehensive recovery plan (CRP) with the service member, caregivers, family members, and the recovery team to identify goals and resources needed to achieve those goals, such as assistive technology, education, employment, or housing.
The DoD Office of Warrior Care Policy is responsible for oversight, policy of the Recovery Coordination Program, and standardized training for all RCCs, but each military service branch implements its own Recovery Coordination Program in accordance with DoD policy. The terminology may differ with service (for example, advocate, care coalition, recovery care), but the mission and the standards are the same. Check out the following links for service-specific information:
Caring for elderly parents, even in the best of situations, can be difficult, especially if you’re a military service member. Trying to make long-term care and emergency decisions for elderly parents while you carry a lot of responsibility at work can cause a lot of worry. And if you’re deployed overseas, it’s even more difficult to monitor your parents’ well-being. As they age, your parents may need help with daily activities such as home maintenance, personal hygiene, and meals. And if a medical emergency occurs without a contingency plan in place, it adds to your burden of guilt and anxiety over what could happen in the your absence.
As your parents age, your worry grows, especially if they have had any prior illnesses. But you are likely to worry less if you have other siblings and you have a solid parent-care plan in place.
Here are some preemptive steps that you can take to make sure your parents are well cared for, even if you’re on different continents:
- Find out what community and government resources there are for information and support services in your parents’ neighborhood.
- Ask siblings, extended family members, neighbors, and friends to help with your parent-care responsibilities.
- Schedule regular phone calls or Skype chats for updates on your parents’ well-being and health.
- Develop a care plan together with your parents before a medical emergency occurs.
With so many people counting on you, it’s important to be organized, mentally solid, and in control of every situation no matter what happens. Strategic planning and communication can make all the difference in caring for your elderly parents from afar and maintaining your own performance as you cope with these additional stress loads. For more information on caregiver support and eldercare, please visit the National Resource Directory.
Want to see your children equipped to persevere in the face of challenges? To instill “grit” in your kids, the trick is challenging with care, not just pushing harder.
Here are some tips to help your children develop grit:
- Praise your children for working hard and using their talents, not for already having talent. Calling them “gifted” or “talented” doesn’t help if these labels become an excuse not to work hard.
- Reward commitment by giving your children more chances to develop their interests. For example, if your child is always painting, try to encourage it by sending him or her to art camp.
- Big goals usually require a lot of sustained effort for a child—more like a marathon than a sprint. Encourage persistence with words such as “Hang in there!” or “You can do it!” But remember that children have a much shorter attention span than adults.
- Teach your children that failures and setbacks are an essential part of learning. Remind them that excellence comes from both triumphs and mistakes.
- Give your children some space to become independent, so they can be self-reliant and self-motivated and learn from their own choices.
Grit doesn’t develop overnight. It takes time. But remember that children are children and need lots of free time and play time to develop optimally. For more insight into specific parenting styles, check out HPRC’s article about how to be a warm leader, not a drill sergeant.
Tired of having family members “push your buttons” or inadvertently pushing theirs? You’ll be glad to learn it’s something you can fix. How you relate to people as an adult is shaped by the relationships you had early in life. It’s easy to get drawn into old patterns with family members. But there are some things you can do to stop taking the bait and stop putting bait out there for your loved ones to take.
For example, an old rivalry can re-emerge between siblings, even if you don’t do this with any one else in your adult life. Or it can feel like you’ve gone back in time, and you’re an adolescent again rebelling against your parent. Keep these old patterns in mind, because they can creep into your present.
Here are some tips to avoid reliving familiar conflicts or other unpleasant interactions:
- Don’t put out bait: You can’t control other people’s behavior, but you can control yours. Be aware of what you feel drawn to do, and stop yourself if you know your next move might cause friction (such as calling someone a name, or more subtle moves).
- Don’t take bait: Others will (consciously or unconsciously) do things that trigger your emotions (such as a snarky comment or an overly long story). Slow down and take a breath rather than responding out of impulse.
- Assume good intentions: When you feel baited, assume that the other person isn’t intentionally triggering you and that he/she means well. Even if this is untrue, your different style of interacting with him or her can help break the pattern. And it could even start a new, more positive dynamic!
Instead of being a “perfect” parent, strive to be “good enough.” As a parent, you want the best for your children. At a minimum, you know you shouldn’t neglect or abuse your children. Ideally you’re a caring parent who sets good boundaries for their safe development. But some parents overdo their involvement.
The problem with working too hard to meet your child’s every need is that your child doesn’t learn to become independent. When children experience some frustration along the way or have to figure out things on their own, they become more equipped to tolerate frustration and face adversity. And they learn how to solve problems for themselves. That said, don’t leave them hanging, but gently guide them to figure out solutions for themselves.
Read HPRC’s “Need to update your parenting style?” to learn more ways to be “good enough.”