Children are especially vulnerable to emotional struggles during deployment. They may not know how to process changes in their family or to express the uncertainty they feel. They also may not know how to talk about their worries for the absent parent.
Children may seem a bit restless, often moody and occasionally downright unmanageable when a parent is away. It is important to remember that these behaviors are often the way children express negative feelings like fear, worry, anxiety, and loneliness. Children show us how they are feeling by their actions more than their words so we must pay careful attention to body language and behavior. Simply punishing these behaviors won’t stop the stress a child is feeling and may even increase it, but condoning inappropriate behavior is not productive either.
The American School Counselor Association and the National Association of School Psychologists have many suggestions for parents and school personnel to help support a child of a deployed parent.
Consistency and Routine: Structure is particularly important during this time. Children feel insecure because of all of the uncertainties regarding the deployment and they need a predictable routine and home life.
Good Communication: Kids often have a lot of questions during deployment. Daily, honest (and age appropriate) discussions about feelings (yours and theirs) can help ease tension and relieve concerns.
Attention and Good Times: Children can feel neglected during deployment because one parent is gone and the other parent is busy and stressed. Children should have many opportunities to feel loved and cared for during the deployment. It’s a good time to plan special events and start new hobbies.
Healthy Lifestyle: Children need to have fun, and they also need to be healthy. Maintain healthy diets and provide opportunities for exercise. Avoid too much time with electronic forms of entertainment, which can be sedentary and isolating.
Let Kids Be Kids: Be honest but don’t discuss your fears in too much depth with children. Also, don’t expect them to fill an adult role while a parent is gone. Be careful about how much exposure your child has to media that may carry unsettling news or images.
Reassurance: In deployment situations children often feel a loss of control and stability; they have experienced a major change. Reminding them that both parents love them no matter what will help ease their anxiety. Assure them they are not alone, that they have support from family and teachers.
A Good Behavior Plan: While it is important to understand that misbehavior during deployment can be a result of negative feelings, it is also important to set limits and have consequences. Parents can eliminate a lot of problems by making a chart and pre-determining consequences for specific behaviors.
Physical and Emotional Expressions of Love: Hugs and high fives go a long way in helping children cope with difficult situations. For parents, reassure your children verbally of your love, and that you are walking through the deployment with them.
Helping kids through a deployment is a challenge. Having a plan, sharing feelings, enjoying special times and enlisting the help of family, friends, teachers, and support services will make things easier on both children and parents.
Be Inspired and Reenergized!
Request a deployment/reunion event for your group.
We have exceptional speakers available for keynotes or to lead military family events. All workshops and presentations are customized to meet the needs of the participants/audience.
Karen Pavlicin’s workshops:
“Your dynamic presentation to the unsung heroes of the 10th Mountain Division provided instruction, encouragement and hope at a critical time and will have a major impact on the health and welfare of the Soldiers and families at Fort Drum, NY.”—Command Chaplain Nichols
To arrange an event, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Terri Barnes collected her best Stars and Stripes columns in her award-winning book Spouse Calls: Messages From a Military Life. Deployment, reunion, moving, motherhood, friendship, and more.
Military Life: Stories and Poems for Children is a collection of original stories and poems that touch on many aspects of military life from a child’s point of view. From moving to making new friends, deployment, homecoming, patriotism, and tender family moments.
Deployment Journal for Spouses: Memories and milestones while my loved one is deployed by Rachel Robertson is a personal journal for anyone who has a loved one deployed with the military. Gentle journal writing prompts and inspirational sayings guide you through deployment and homecoming.