Filed under: Families
It’s no news that stress can take a toll on your life and can affect your relationships—which may already be under a strain from repeated deployments and combat exposure. But unmanaged stress doesn’t affect only you; it can create a ripple effect in families, which is why learning to effectively manage stress is so important. Deep breathing, mindfulness, meditation, guided imagery, and body scanning are just a few strategies that can help you relax, manage your stress, and help you live your life better—and everyone in the family can learn and benefit from them.
For more tips on how to manage stress, check out HPRC’s Stress Control section.
Even wonder why HPRC refers to the sections of its website as “domains”? They came from an initiative within the Department of Defense that’s outlined in a special issue of Military Medicine titled “Total Force Fitness for the 20th Century: A New Paradigm.” Experts identified eight “domains” of fitness that contribute to the optimal, overall fitness and preparedness of U.S. military forces. With some reorganization (and one exception – medical), these domains are represented on HPRC’s website—Physical Fitness, Environment, Nutrition, Dietary Supplements (originally part of nutrition), Mind Tactics (psychological, behavioral, and spiritual fitness), and Family and Relationships (family and social fitness)—along with a section on Total Force Fitness that addresses how these domains come together to create Human Performance Optimization (HPO) for our military service members.
Families are constantly confronted with problems and the need to find solutions to them. In addition to all the challenges of everyday life that civilian families go through, military families also have to cope with additional stressors specific to the military, making the ability to solve problems a crucial skill.
Individuals tend to fare better in relationships when they discuss challenges with each other and then directly act on those problems. A book by two researchers suggests the following process for making decisions:
- Specifically state the issue
- State why the issue is important
- Brainstorm and discuss possible solutions to the issue
- Decide on a realistic solution
- Pick a specific amount of time to try the solution
Give this structured process a try and see how it works for you. For more ideas about family communication and problem solving, visit HPRC’s Family & Relationships section.
An interesting program for optimizing children’s health focuses on four specific behaviors that parents and children can use for health and wellness: Let’s Go!’s "5-2-1-0".
5—Eat at least five fruits and vegetables today – more is better!
2—Cut screen time down to two hours or less a day (no screen time for under age of two).
1—Participate in at least one hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day.
0—Zero sugar-sweetened sodas, sports drinks, and fruit drinks. Instead drink water and three or four servings a day of fat-free or one-percent milk.
For ideas about how to incorporate fruits and vegetables into daily meals, visit the MyPlate.gov KidsHealth website.
In this fifth and final week of strategies you can use to help your children and teens weather the deployment of a parent, we take a look at how you can use the experience to strengthen your family.
Week #5 tips: Honor the family strengths.
- Deployment and reintegration can be times of family strength and growth. Look at these as opportunities to practice new roles and routines that can be helpful as your family adapts to the challenges of deployment and reintegration.
- Recognize the growth of your adolescent when you return from your deployment. Many teens feel like they’ve matured during their parent’s absence and feel hurt when this goes unacknowledged. In fact, acknowledging and communicating growth and transformations for each member of the family can be a great family activity to build positive relationships.
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.
This week we offer some practical strategies to help you to keep the lines of communication open with your teens about deployment and post-deployment reintegration.
Week #3 tips: Maintain open communication with your teenager.
- The most important strategy to use especially with teens is to maintain open communication about concerns, emotions, and questions.
- Encourage your teens and children to speak out about their thoughts and feelings to their loved ones. It not only helps manage their emotions, but it also helps foster closer family relationships.
- Stay close to your teen or child while you are deployed using the technology they love: smartphones, Twitter, Facebook, email, etc.
- Reinforce your teenager’s growing autonomy while you rebuild and maintain your relationship in new and flexible ways. Let your teen choose how much he or she wants to stay in touch; take a hint from how—and how often—they respond to you reaching out.
- You also can encourage your teens and children to create a “scrapbook” of videos, pictures, stories, and relevant events that took place while their parent was deployed so experiences can be shared during and after deployment.
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.
At the U.S. Army Garrison in Kaiserslautern (Germany), the base is trying to find more ways to include families in physical fitness. They are providing classes— called “Binkies and Babes” —that spouses can do with their babies. These classes are great ways for spouses to workout with their young children, socialize with other military families, and get a great individual workout!
Overseas military families can sometimes find it difficult to both exercise and manage child care. This is one way overseas bases are moving towards Total Family Fitness. Renee Champagne, the Fitness Coordinator for the Army bases in Germany (and a military spouse herself), sees how “working out and staying physically fit may help a spouse cope during a deployment… which in turn could provide peace of mind to the military member downrange.”
For more information, see the article and video on Stars and Stripes.