The deployment of a military parent may cause a child to have similar worries as when there is a divorce in the family. For instance, they may wonder if their non-deployed parent will leave too. And if this were to happen, who would take care of them?
By helping their youngsters prepare for a pending departure ahead of time, military spouses can alleviate anxiety. By following these tips prior to separation, you can help your children cope and make it a positive experience:
Make sure they know they are loved. Since children often assume responsibility for distress in a family, they may think it is their fault that the deployed parent is leaving or that the parent no longer loves them. By providing constant loving assurance, you can help alleviate these feelings.
Be Honest. Children are very perceptive and will likely catch on that something is happening as soon as the parent begins to prepare for departure. Don’t try to shield your child from the truth, as he or she might imagine something worse. It’s best to discuss the upcoming deployment openly.
Share feelings. Since kids sometimes lack the words to accurately express how they feel, be sure to share your own feelings which will help them communicate theirs. Let them know that it’s okay to have negative thoughts.
Explore the destination. Get out a map or use a globe to show your child were you are going and the path you will take to get there. You can also use resources such as books, encyclopedias, and the internet to explore the area’s weather conditions, traditions, etc.
Show your workspace. If it’s feasible, take your child on a pre-departure tour. For example, visit the ship and where you will be eating your meals, sleeping and working. Or perhaps you can go to the armory and let him or her see some of the artillery guns, weapons and other equipment you might be using while you are away.
Let them help you pack. By letting your child assist the deployed parent with packing, he or she can enjoy being directly involved in the process. Your children may also have fun decorating the inside of the footlocker.
While many parents fret about the negative impact of deployment can have on their children, the experience is also beneficial because it offers opportunities for growth.
Promotes maturity. Military children have broader experiences than children in non-military families. They usually start learning about the world and how to function within a community at a younger age. Also, when a parent is deployed, they assume more responsibilities and develop new skills.
Encourages independence. Children in military families are apt to be self-starters and more resourceful. Living a life -style chock full of greetings and farewells due to deployments and relocations, a child will be better prepared for future separations and building new relationships.
Strengthens family bonds. Emotional adjustments military families make during a separation lead them to discover new sources of strength and support among themselves.
Since children in military households can experience a heightened level of stress by the deployment of one or more of their parents, its important for military spouses to be aware of certain behaviors that could indicate possible feelings of frustration, hurt or anger that can stem from a parent’s absence and/or frequent relocation.
When feeling stressed and anxious, some kids may choose to show it in a non-verbal way. According to Psychology Today, they may become less active, snack more frequently, or keep to themselves. Sadly, it’s estimated that some 25 percent of stressed-out children take it out on themselves. Some of the unhealthy coping strategies they may exhibit include head banging, biting themselves, or hitting themselves.
As a parent, you can help your kids handle these feelings by using healthy methods. If your child seems to be under stress but hasn’t told you his or her feelings, KidsHealth.org suggests taking the following steps:
1) Make your observations out loud. If you detect any unusual or strange behaviors in your child, perhaps their eating habits have changed, there is a loss of interest in favorite activities or hobbies, or perhaps they have become increasingly withdrawn, tell them you have noticed a change. However, it’s important that you refrain from speaking in an accusing way by saying something like, “Okay, what happened now?”
2) Listen to your child’s concerns. Allow your child to discuss and air his or her feelings openly with you, and resist any urge you may have to place blame, judge them, or give a lecture. It’s important that you be attentive, patient, caring and compassionate while they are expressing themselves.
3) Make your comments brief. Statements such as “That must have upset you,” “No wonder you felt angry,” and “I know you miss your dad,” will demonstrate to your child that you understand and have empathy for how he or she is feeling.
4) Help your child put a label on his or her feelings. Since they might not be capable of accurately verbalizing their emotions, you may need to help your children in the process of identifying the feelings they are experiencing. By doing this, you will facilitate their ability to express themselves clearly and in a healthy way. Also, a child who is able to recognize his or her emotions is less prone to communicate strong feelings through unhealthy or self-destructive actions.
5) Help your child come up with things to do. Propose some activities or projects your children can engage in to make them feel better and solve the problem at hand. Be supportive of the ideas they suggest.
The reality it that life circumstances can be just as hard and stressful for a young child as for a teenager or young adult. While it’s easier for some parents to simply dismiss their child’s stress or worries as “having a bad day,” we need to stay diligent in recognizing changes in the way our kids conduct themselves. By being aware and utilizing the tips listed above, we can help them deal with their stresses in a healthy, positive and productive way.