Parents who have a loved one who is going to be deployed or has already been deployed have been asking me to do my duty and help them help their children deal with the separation. Well, let me salute this important issue and provide some information on this topic.
Have a conversation
First, it is important that deployment not be a secret for anyone in the family. If a parent is going to be going away in the military, discuss in advance with people in your family. Exchange gifts between the person going away, and those at home to maintain closeness.
Reassure your child
Listen to your child’s questions and answer them as truthfully as possible. Reassure your child and tell them how long a loved one will be away. Tell them that safety precautions will certainly be taken—but don’t make false assurances that no one will ever be hurt. Tell them that the person being deployed knows their job and will be working hard to do it well; so they can stay safe.
Keep a routine
Make a calendar with events like birthdays and holidays that reminds your family when the person is returning. Classrooms can make a map or put up a picture of the loved one for all to see or even study that part of the world. Other older children whose parents are away may be good supports for younger children.
It is important to keep home routines, in place and limits set before, during, and after someone returns.
Tell people outside of your family
Let the school and other key people outside of the family who work with your child know that deployment is happening. It is important for them to watch for signs of stress; such as problems in school performance, or behavior or mood changes. If these signs do occur, talk with your child’s doctor to see if counseling, which can include the entire family is indicated to deal with sadness and anxiety about someone being away on deployment.
Don’t forget to take time for you
Finally, it is important that a parent who remains home with the children find time for themselves; so they stay refreshed and feel better about helping others through this tough experience. If you appear stressed, your child may become equally stressed.
Hopefully, tips like these will put you at ease when it comes to helping you and your child deal with the deployment of a loved one.
Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont College of Medicine. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and WPTZ Channel 5, or visit the First with Kids video archives at www.UVMHealth.org/MedCenterFirstWithKids.