How to Help Kids Deal with a Deployed Parent

Learn how to help kids deal with a deployed parent in this Howcast video about child anxiety issues.

I’m here to talk to you about how to help your child with a deployed parent. Now, when you think about deployment, it really is many things and is not just one day. There is pre deployment and then there is deployment and then actually, eventually, there is when that person comes back. There is a couple things to think about when you think about how to help your children. One is, the age of your child. The other is, what phase of the deployment this is and how many deployments. So, let’s talk about deployment itself. There is the pre deployment phase where often there is the getting ready and there is lots of kinds of feelings and just behaviors that start to happen with the parent that is going to be deployed and with the family that will be staying behind. So, once that pre deployment phase kicks in, already there may be a different routine and lots of new feelings and sometimes problematic feelings. But on the other hand, you have that family still a family. So some of the things that you see down the road, once the person is deployed, won’t be evident yet.

Then, you have the deployment itself and then there is goodbye and then there is that person not being there anymore. So in the pre deployment phase, you may have been taking about how they handle different things or different roles and responsibilities the spouse would take on but then, the reality is what happens day to day when the person is actually deployed and no longer there. So I think people need to think about even that pre phase and how to help children. Now, in terms of helping children, you want to think again about their ages. A very young child, maybe an infant, a toddler, a preschooler, they don’t necessarily understand the concept of going away or for three months or 18 months or remember like dad went away the last time or remember when mom was away because she was working with the military. So they don’t have that sense of time. So they will be much more focused on the present and they are going to reacting to, maybe, tension in the house, change in routine, and then, once the deployment happens, they may have some of those behaviors in terms of searching or feeling lonely or feeling distressed or have more tantrums.

Sometimes, the more you can keep their routine the same, the more you can have a structure in place, the better it will be because it will comforting for them. When you get children that are little older, school age, and certainly teenagers, then they understand much more about what’s going on. Then may want to be more involved in making plans, taking on new roles in the family. They may also be scared or angry or worried. They may also want to be responsible and want to help starting at the pre deployment phase and certainly, once the person is deployed. So as you can see, there is a wide range of reactions and feelings that kids can have and certainly, the spouses and the people that are going away may have teenagers, of course, may have all sorts of other kinds of feelings that they have related to the reality of a situation. They are trying to be independent, they are trying to form opinions and they may want to have different kinds of discussions with you about your leaving and what that can mean for them and for the family as well as for you.

When it comes to deployment, this is the very general way to look at it. But there is so many other things that you need to think about, in terms of your own family and situation. So when there is a deployment, sometimes, the family may be moving as well and is this the first time a family has moved? Is this the third time a family has moved? Is this the first deployment or had there been multiple ones? So again, you want to think about what you need to do to help everyone make the transition from one phase to the next and every time there is a deployment, you really want to think what worked the last time and what may be new and different this time. And now, once somebody is deployed, we have some terrific ways to keep people connected these days in terms of Skype and electronic messaging and there is all sorts of things, I think, that families can now do from keeping photographs around of the person, the old fashioned way, and then finding ways to still stay connected and keep that deployed parent involved in the family. It will help everyone to re -integrate when that person comes home because they have been gone but hopefully, what they missed, they’ll still become a part of.