Dealing With Deployment
Celebrate the Month of the Military Child and get the resources you need to help your kids cope with deployment.
April 19, 2013 by Jake Butler
1986, Defense Secretary Casper Weinberger pushed to make April the Month of the Military Child. Since then, military communities and organizations across the country have come together every April to celebrate the courage and perseverance of our country's military children.
There are plenty of them out there – the Department of Defense estimates 44% of active-duty service members are parents. That's about 1.2 million "military brats" in the country and all of them deal with the challenges and adversity of the military lifestyle on a daily basis.
One of the biggest, most inevitable challenges is deployment – dealing with a parent leaving on a tour of duty. What can you do to help your children cope? Your kids will take their cues from you, so you want to make sure you're setting a good example and helping them develop healthy skills for dealing with tough situations. Read on for some actionable parenting tips and a variety of resources to help.
The Difference Between Routine Deployments and Combat Deployments
Routine deployments can still put stress on a military family, but in some ways they're easier to deal with than combat deployments. They frequently have predetermined durations and locations – soldiers and their families often know where they're going to be, for how long, and when they'll return.
Combat deployments are quite different. Whether your loved one is deployed for direct combat or a support mission, there's usually a great deal of uncertainty regarding location and duration. Further, it sometimes puts them directly in harm's way and you never know what could happen. That uncertainty can cause a lot of stress within the family.
Helping Your Children Cope
Every child is going to respond differently to deployment depending on their age, maturity and unique family situations. Here are some simple parenting guidelines to help them cope with the situation.
Maintain your normal routines. Don't change your regular schedules. Try to carry on as best you can without your partner, just like you would if they were still at home. If you do need to change something about your daily routines, make sure you talk about it with your kids ahead of time. Make a plan and stick to it.
Stay calm and keep communication channels open. Your kids are going to take their emotional cues from you, so it's best to stay calm and collected. If you're an emotional wreck, it's going to be even harder for them to deal with the situation. Sometimes kids just want someone to listen. They may not come to you first, so it's best to be proactive about communicating. Ask them about any fears, worries or concerns they may have – talking openly about it will help them vent and give you some insight for how to help, even if it's just a short conversation with some simple reassurance.
Help them stay connected to the deployed parent. There are lots of ways to accomplish this: It's just a matter of being creative. Set up channels for communication – phone calls, e-mails, webcam chats and other internet messaging services – whatever resources are available to the service member wherever they are, put them to good use. Encourage your children to keep a list of things they want to talk to them about when they get a chance. Don't forget to set reasonable expectations though – sometimes the technology doesn't cooperate or it may take some time to get a response.
This is really just the tip of the iceberg. For a full list of suggestions for how to help your kids cope with all phases of deployment, check out MilitaryKidsConnect.org.
Other Resources and Avenues for Support
Know that you're not alone in your struggles. There are many other families going through the same thing. The internet is a great way to connect to people and organizations that can help.
The American Red Cross provides a number of resources for families dealing with all stages of deployment. They offer a course called Coping with Deployments: Psychological First Aid for Military Families. They also partner with Walmart to provide Reconnection Workshops to help families prepare for homecoming. For some quick tips, check out their PDF e-pamphlet called Coming Home From Deployment: The New "Normal".
There are plenty of websites dedicated to helping military children, and the Association of the United States Army also has a number of family programs to help.
Don't forget about your local organizations! Boys & Girls Club of America, Big Brothers Big Sisters, the National 4-H Council and YMCA are all big supporters of military families. Whether you live on a military base or in a civilian neighborhood, these programs are here to help your kids develop healthy social relationships.
Remember to Celebrate
The Month of the Military Child is grounds for celebration! Do something special with your kids – let them know that they're important to you, that you love and care about them and that you're there to help them through hard times. Go on an adventure; forget your troubles for a day. Then come together as a family and prepare yourselves for whatever life throws at you.