Filed under: Military families
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.
Learn how to make healthy choices about nutrition and physical fitness with information you and your family can instantly apply. HPRC's Family & Relationships section has a new area on family nutrition where you can find tips on how to help yourself and those around you—your parents, children, spouse, and friends—build and maintain healthy food habits. Find more information on interactive tools, family meal planning, military resources, and research findings.
Warfighters have specific physical activity requirements, but their spouses, children, parents, and other loved ones also have physical fitness requirements for their own individual and family missions. HPRC's family section has a new area that summarizes recent guidelines for physical activity for U.S. adults, and children, and identifies military resources, interactive tools, and exercise workouts and videos. Check it out here!
In this final entry in our holiday season series, we remind you to foster a good friendship with your loved ones. Try these ideas:
- Discuss each other's goals and dreams for the future.
- Listen to the your partner talk about the daily things that interest him or her, and share what interests you.
- Do things together that you both enjoy.
Friendship with your partner is an important part of long-term marital satisfaction.
Last week we started a series on survival tips for couples during the holiday season and discussed how many positive interactions couples need to do to make up for one negative interaction. This week, we're focusing on the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”—a term coined by researchers for four features of communication that can destroy a relationship over time. Try to avoid these when communicating with your loved one:
- Criticism: Don’t made global negative statements about each other.
- Contempt: Don’t be sarcastic (in a mean way) or mocking towards your loved one.
- Defensiveness: Don’t respond to defend your behavior without first listening.
- Stonewalling: Don’t withdraw or ignore your loved one.
Too much of these characteristics has been linked to unhappy relationships over the long term. As stress and tensions rise throughout this holiday season, remember to be vigilant about avoiding these four kinds of behavior.