Military children with a deployed parent may be susceptible to feelings of sadness during the holidays. However, military kids are also resilient and resourceful, and with a little planning the adults in their lives can ensure a holiday season full of cheer, warmth, and cherished memories. Rachel Robertson, educator, and author of Deployment Journal for Kids, offers these ideas for celebrating with children during deployment.
Honor traditions. Don’t underestimate importance of continuity and beloved rituals in a time of change. Familiar celebrations are comforting to a child. Modify if necessary when managing the holidays on your own, but keep some familiar traditions.
Start new traditions. Deployment may be a good time to try new ways to celebrate. For some children, the usual celebrations seem sadder without mom or dad, while others may take comfort in them, so involve kids in your decisions. Encourage their creativity, while being sensitive to their need for continuity.
Celebrate long distance. Perhaps you can Skype or Facetime with the deployed parent during your holiday party or dinner. Send care packages ahead of time with treats and decorations, if deployment conditions allow. Ask your deployed spouse to send a decoration from their location, if possible. The more unusual, the better!
Focus on the meaning of the holidays. Regardless of which holidays your family celebrates, all are enhanced by kindness, caring, love, and peace. Focus on the things you are grateful for instead of the things you wish were different.
Document the event. Take photos and videos. Take notes! Create a scrapbook of the holidays to share later. Kids and teens might enjoy taking photos or sharing creatively on social media. Don’t forget to use good operational security as needed.
Take care of yourself. While caring for your children during deployment, caring for yourself is important too. Make sure you talk about your feelings, spend time with friends; pay attention to good eating and sleeping habits.
Don’t be alone. Celebrate with other military families. Invite family to visit, or go to visit them. Regardless of whom you feel closest too, it is okay to ask for support.
Talk. Let your family know you are there to talk if they need to. Share your feelings as well, modeling positive communication. If the kids know you are sad, too — but still able to be hopeful and happy — they will feel much better.
Spread the cheer. Reaching out to help someone else can shift your focus to the positive. Help a new military family, donate toys, visit a nursing home, or serve at the chow hall. Helping others is good for you and a great model for your children.
For military children, life is full of change, new schools and neighborhoods, friends who move, and deployed parents. Holidays full of laughter, traditions old and new, and quality family time provide continuity in their lives and memories to last a lifetime.
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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.