There is no easy way to break it to a child that one of their parents is being deployed. Children have a difficult time adjusting to the absence of a parent under any circumstances. Some children have a really tough time adjusting to the change, as life as they knew it is disrupted. Because of this, they often begin to experience strong emotions like anxiety, anger, fear, confusion, depression and the feeling of uncertainty.
In cases where a parent is being deployed, it is essential that you notify your kids beforehand so that they can begin preparing for the change, and hopefully be able to handle the separation by developing strong coping abilities.
Here are few ways to help prepare your children for deployment:
Encourage Honest Communication. Children’s response to deployment vary depending on their age and maturity level. You should be able to communicate with them in ways that are developmentally appropriate. Establish open lines of communication so that they can share both negative and positive feelings with you. Generally speaking, older children are able to express their feelings in an effective way, whereas younger children sometimes fail to do so due to limited vocabulary. Because of this, it is important that you encourage them to express themselves as much as possible and assure them that all feelings (negative and positive), are normal and completely acceptable.
Ways of Being in Touch. Tell your kids the ways they will be able to communicate and stay in touch with you. This will help them better cope with your upcoming deployment. You can discuss how you plan to keep in touch with them through letters, emails, videos and pictures. Be creative and make it fun by choosing special paper or stationery which will be used for your correspondence only.
Designating Roles and Responsibilities. Assigning new roles or household duties can help to channel anxiety in an effective manner. Establishing roles for the older children allows them to be responsible and when you tell them how their responsible behavior will help the other parent, it tends to make them even more willingly to handle their responsibilities. Don’t over burden them; instead, set tasks according to their age and make them understand how their contribution is needed and helpful.
Spending Quality Time. Spend as much time with your family before deployment as it will help children make new memories and positive experiences to remember you by. Plan fun activities to do or shop for items to stay in touch with them. Allow your kids to be part of the planning process. Let them help you pack and also allow them to have a say in any family decisions involving your deployment.
Monitor Media Exposure. If there is a lot of media coverage related to your deployment destination, you may want to consider limiting the time your children hear or watch it. This is especially true if it depicts violence, which may trigger extreme anxiety in children. If they are exposed, interested, or it is appropriate for children, then sit and watch with them. Answer their questions and reassure them by giving them plenty of support.
Exchanging Sentimental Gifts. For older kids, a pillow, T-shirt, cap or anything which has been in personal use of yours could be a great gift. For younger ones you could record your voice reading a favorite bedtime story or their favorite song. These gifts will be a tool of comfort and support while you are away.