Advance planning, communication, and reassurance go a long way.
Advance planning and open communication, along with a big dose of reassurance, can help everyone get through the difficult time leading up to a service member’s departure. Here are some ideas to get you started:
How to plan and prepare for deployment together
- Let the important people in your life, especially those involved in your child’s care, know that a parent will be leaving. Establish a support network you can count on for help when you need it. (It’s okay to seek counseling if you feel overwhelmed–you can even do so anonymously if you prefer.)
- In planning how to cope with deployment, help older children build their own extended support systems, which might include school counselors, teachers, and trusted peers.
- Talk to your child about the coming deployment and encourage him to ask questions. Without discussion about getting through deployment, a child may imagine the worst. A young child may even fret about his parent’s basic needs being met. To the fullest extent possible, describe what the deployed mom or dad’s everyday life will be like–what she’ll eat, where she’ll sleep, etc. No matter what your child’s age, remind him that his parent is highly trained. Tell him: “Your mom knows how to do her job well, and she’s not alone. She’s working with others who also do their jobs well.”
Be aware of different reactions from your children
- If you have more than one child, don’t be surprised if each reacts differently to the upcoming deployment. The Faces and Feelings printable can help younger children understand their feelings better about dealing with deployment. Remind older children that they should share their worries and concerns with you, too.
Keep family connections strong
- Assure your child that regular family activities such as bedtime stories, game nights, or family dinners will continue.
- Create a “thinking of you” item, like a “hug-me” pillow. Stuff one of the deploying parent’s T-shirts and sew it closed. When your child feels the need, he can wrap himself in a hug!
- As a family, complete the Family Puzzle printable. To make the pieces of the puzzle sturdier, you can laminate individual pieces or glue the sheet to cardstock before cutting the pieces out.
Impact of Deployment on Military Families
Establish deployment routines to help your family ease into their new roles.
Many things will change once a parent has been deployed. In getting through deployment, you’ll find yourself creating new routines and adjusting old ones to fit new circumstances. But in time–and with patience–your family will adjust, and take pride in doing so.
Stick to routines
- Routines will help your child feel secure. Use the Every Day, Every Night printable as a way of talking about routines with younger children.
- As time goes on and your child begins to feel more comfortable, ask her to help establish new family routines. For instance, make Thursdays “Breakfast for Dinner” days, spend every Saturday afternoon at the park together, or set aside Sunday nights for writing letters to loved ones far away.
- When a parent is deployed, older children can give younger ones comfort and be terrific role models. Let your older children know that they’re an important part of the team, and encourage them to help out. But make sure to let them be kids, too!
- Take care of yourself by including physical activity in your routines: a family walk, a game of tag, or dancing to your favorite tunes. Also, be sure to prepare healthy meals and get plenty of sleep. By keeping yourself physically fit, you’ll keep yourself emotionally fit as well.
- Use the We Can Do It printable to keep track of your family routines and individual responsibilities.
Keep connected to the deployed parent
- Reassure your child by keeping connected to the deployed parent with e-mails and phone calls.
- Create a special ritual that the family and the deployed parent can both share while away from each other. For instance, your little one and her deployed mom or dad can look up at the sky each night as a reminder that they are underneath the same moon and stars. An older child and his parent might choose a word or phrase that will be their secret message–when they hear or say it, they’ll think of each other.
Leave the homecoming date open-ended
- Your child might ask, “When is Dad coming home?” or “Why can’t he come home now?” When answering these questions, leave the homecoming date as open-ended as possible while giving your child something hopeful to hang on to: “Dad will be home as soon as his job is finished. He loves us all very much and can’t wait to be with us again.”
- Help your child keep track of the days Dad is away. For example, start a paper chain and add a colorful link each day, to be presented to him or used as a decoration at homecomings. Put some change in a jar for each day apart. When Dad returns, your child can use the money to buy something special for him or for the family to enjoy together.
Helpful links related to Deployments