Deployment can trigger an emotional tide that impacts the entire family.
It can be especially difficult for children, who are suddenly faced with the departure of a mother or father. Young children can struggle to understand the “where, how and why” of a parent’s absence.
Studies have shown that some children with a deployed parent suffer from high levels of stress, which can lead to violence, mental illness and resentment that can change the entire family dynamic.
While you can’t replace that loved one serving abroad, parents, other family members and friends can help children cope by keeping them connected. Here are some long-term projects and other activities that can help children stay engaged in family life during a difficult stretch:
Make a Movie: Record any updates or events the deployed soldier will miss and make an editing project out of them. When the soldier arrives home, you can feature your film and reconnect quickly on times lost.
Scrapbook: For the not so tech-savvy movie type. Same idea as the movie, just take pictures and write updates. You can pull them all together in a book, decorate it and give it as a gift upon homecoming.
Book Study: Before the soldier leaves the child, they can decide on a book they would like to read over the term of leave. Marked passages for specific time frames can evoke a sense of connection, even oceans apart.
Chain Links: For the younger children, make an activity of adding a paper chain link for each day or week that their parent is gone. You can write messages or draw pictures to add significance and allow the child to feel some of their emotions openly.
There are also programs specifically designed to help children cope with deployment outside the home.
Operation Military Kids (OMK) helps bring deployment-affected kids together in social, recreational and educational events. Programs are offered in multiple locations across the United States.
Mock Deployments like the one operated by the Fort Hood Army Community Service allow kids to go through the process of deployment. They receive physical exams, platoon assignments and field equipment to explore.
Create or Get Involved in a Military Fundraiser: Kids can feel helpful by raising money for care packages. Selling cookie dough, candy or crafts is a great way to get your child involved and experience the joy of helping the community at large.
Missing Family Milestones
Children aren’t the only part of a family that feels the effects of a deployment. Military parents everywhere struggle when they or their spouse are forced to miss family milestones. Learn how one military spouse has learned to cope with her significant other’s deployment and absence from family events.
Photo thanks to Georgia National Guard via Flickr Creative Commons