Saying goodbye during temporary duty is hard for everyone, of course. But for military children, it’s especially difficult, because to children, caregivers mean security; they mean love and safety. Separation anxiety makes it hard for them to understand that they are still connected with their parent even when they are apart. Yet in military families, separation is a given, and it’s probably something that will happen over and over again.
Next: While You’re Away
- Make sure the whole family understands where Mom or Dad will be and what they’ll be doing while on temporary duty. This can be hard for little ones. A trick is to hang up a map with the location of your home and the location of the assignment both highlighted. Talk about what the daily routines of the service member will be, so it’s easier for children to imagine it. Provide as much information as is appropriate.
- Your children will also want to know who will be helping to care for them and who will provide support for your military family. Perhaps a grandparent or a family friend or neighbor is going to be around more. Offer plenty of specific reassurance: “Nana will take you to soccer practice for now, until Dad gets home again.” Or, “Guess who taught Mom to make those delicious waffles? It was Grandpa, and he’ll make them with you while Mom is gone.”
- Practice “See you later.” Make sure to let children know again and again: “This is not goodbye. It’s just until we see each other again.” Maybe the family can create a special hug or kiss routine, or a “see you later” song you can all sing together. Then, when the actual goodbye comes, it will feel familiar, which will provide some comfort.
- Prepare some things that can be worked into the family routine to stay connected while you’re away. For example, freeze a special meal or two that your children know is one of your favorites. They can eat it while you’re gone and talk about you. Make a video or audio recording of you reading your children’s favorite books, or singing a song you all like.
- Plan a few surprises, too. Leave some little notes around the house that children can be directed to when they need a pick-me-up. Wrap up and leave behind a small, meaningful object that they can associate with you: a pinecone you found together, a special piece of jewelry, a seashell from a family vacation. They can keep it in their pocket or a special place.