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    Helping Kids Cope With A Deployed Parent

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    Deployments are difficult for the entire family, but they can be even more confusing and scary for kids. As a military spouse for thirteen years, our family went through four different deployments, and although they were all different, each one was hard on our kids. Depending on their age, kids may not understand why their parent is gone suddenly, or they may fear the deployed parents’ safety, which can mentally take a heavy toll on them. If you are facing a deployment, you can take steps to help make the transition easier on your kids and give them the support they need until their parent returns.

    Prepare Them Ahead of Time

    Regardless of your kid’s age, both the parent deploying and the one staying home must begin preparing them ahead of time for what they can expect. Younger kids can’t fully understand what deployments mean, so you can start telling them their parents will have to go away for work for a while but will come back as soon as they can. Older kids can understand the situation better, which makes it imperative that you begin reassuring them that the deploying parent will do everything they can to return home to them safely. This process can be very hard on you, which makes it vital that you have a strong support system that you can turn to along the way. Whether it’s a therapist, family, or other military spouses, having someone you can talk to will help you be there for your kids when they need you the most. 

    Maintain Stability

    When one parent leaves, even if it’s temporary, kids may begin acting out. What they need most when their world feels like it’s turned upside down is stability. Maintain a routine at home that includes a family dinner if it’s possible. Mealtimes are an excellent opportunity to talk with your kids and give you all something to look forward to daily. It’s especially important to maintain discipline, especially if you notice your kids begin to act out. It may hurt your heart to punish them when you know why they’re disobeying or pushing the limits, but kids crave that discipline, and soon you will see them begin to settle down. Remember, you’re the one who knows best, and everything you do for them is out of love, even if it’s difficult.

    Plan Face To Face Time

    During most deployments, there are times when you can facetime or zoom each other. Video calling is an excellent time for your kids to reconnect with their parents and receive reassurance of their well-being. Let this time be full of laughter and storytelling, and let your kids lead the conversation if they feel like it. Seeing each other is beneficial to the ones at home and the ones downrange.

    Encourage Kids To Talk

    Bottling up emotions can lead to depression and anger, so you must encourage your kids to voice their feelings and emotions. Whether they talk to you, their siblings, a therapist, or their friends, talking about what they feel will help them tremendously. Find an age-appropriate way to open the door for communication and remind them that they are safe to speak with you and will never experience judgment for what they are feeling. Younger kids may have trouble articulating what they think, so you may use drawings or puppets to make the process easier. If you have an older child or teenager getting them to talk maybe a challenge. Continue to reassure them and let them come to you in their own time. Telling them your fears in a general way can also show them that it’s ok to be vulnerable.

    Talk About The Deployed Parent Often

    Keeping the deployed parent in daily conversation helps them seem closer and keeps your child from dissociating them from the family. Bring them up every day as you go about your tasks, just like you would have before they left. Everyone will benefit from doing this, and it will calm your kid’s fears that their parent may not come home. Talking about them keeps them close, and that is something everyone wants and needs during deployment.

    Military life is not easy, and it can take a significant toll on kids. Deployments are full of uncertainty and can lead to fear, but there are things you can do to help make the time apart easier on your kids. Prepare them ahead of time, maintain stability, plan face-to-face time, encourage your kids to talk, and often bring up the deployed parent. These steps will help make the deployment a bit easier on your kids.

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