How to Reconnect After Separation
Find ways to bridge the gaps as your child grows and changes during a parent’s deployment.
Remember, even a few months is a long period in a child’s development. A lot will have happened in the time between deployment and deployment homecoming. Relationships have changed; family members have grown emotionally and, in the case of children, physically, as well. Identify how to reconnect after separation with the points below.
Talk with your child beforehand about what to expect
- Over the last few months, your child may have grown an inch, moved up a grade in school, or learned to say his ABCs or ride a bike without training wheels. Remind him that, just as he’s changed, so has his returning parent who is returning home from deployment. The parent who’s coming back may have been to a new place, experienced stressful situations, and also learned new things.
- Take it slow; be patient. If your child is shy at the initial reunion, you can set the example. Let him see Mom and Dad hug. Let him establish a comfortable timetable for reconnecting.
- Routines will need to be readjusted. Introduce changes slowly. Little by little, you’ll have to learn how to be a team again. Help younger children adapt to changing routines with the Things We Do Together and Picture This printables.
Reassure your children
- Just because the deployed parent is back with the family doesn’t mean that your child won’t continue to experience feelings of sadness, anger, anxiety, or confusion. She may also find it difficult to reconnect if she knows the parent may be leaving again. Comfort your child–softly, loudly, daily. Hugs help, too!
- Use the Pocket Full of Hearts printable to encourage communication and expressions of love. If your child is older, think about leaving him positive messages on sticky notes.
Develop tools to manage multiple military homecomings and constant adjustments.
When a service member is redeployed, the whole family is redeployed. For a child, multiple homecomings mean constant adjustments.
Wait to talk about redeployment
- It’s important not to say anything about redeployment until orders are in hand and there are visible signs–such as Mom packing–that something notable is happening.
Be reassuring while breaking the news
- Emphasize that deployments are part of the parent’s job. Reassure your child, as many times as needed, that the redeployment is not a result of anything she did or said.
- Use the previous deployment as a model. Remind your child: “Remember when Dad went away last time? It was hard, but we pulled together as a family–and we will again.” Go back to the ideas and strategies that worked before, and to the people you depended on. But stay flexible, too; each deployment is different.
Be there to talk…and listen
- Try to resist saying “don’t feel bad” or “don’t cry.” The most important thing to your child is for you to hear her out.
- Don’t be surprised if you have to answer the same questions over and over again. Your child might want to know, for instance, why her mom has to go away again, but a friend’s parent doesn’t have to go away at all. In this case, you might say something like: “Everyone has a different job. Your mom’s job is one that needs to be done in another country (or a place far away).”
Spend time together before redeployment
- If you have more than one child, make time for each, doing something as simple as reading together or going to the park to play. You will send an important message: “You matter!”
Helpful links related to Military Homecomings