Tips for helping children through a deployment
Monday, June 25, 2012, 3:50:19 PM
Military children face unique family circumstances all year round, but this lifestyle can be particularly difficult when their mother or father is deployed. The effect a deployment can have on children has only recently been studied, and reports show that children whose parents deploy face academic challenges and emotional problems, according to a report by RAND last year.
Experts agree that one of the best ways to help children of military members with the challenges they may face during a deployment is to talk to them about it beforehand. Depending on the child's age, there are a number of ways to help them prepare.Toddlers
When a child is 3 years old or younger, his or her developmental milestones are more intense and important than many other periods during the toddler's life, which means a parent's deployment can have a more significant effect. Plus, if the absence of one parent causes distress to the one who stays behind, it can have a negative effect on the child, the National Military Family Association (NMFA) reports. The best way a parent can help a youngster through this time is to keep family routines consistent and predictable, nurture the child and take care of his or herself.Preschoolers
As children enter preschool age, they become more curious and begin to develop their own sense of worth. This means that when a parent is deployed, they may take it personally, or believe they did something to cause it. It is important that parents make a preschooler part of the farewell, explaining where the parent is going, and keep them connected to their loved one during the deployment, NMFA reports. It is a good idea for the deployed parent to come up with a plan or schedule for talking and staying in touch, such as calling or video chatting right before the child goes to bed.School aged children
School aged children are more likely to understand their parent's deployment, but that doesn't always mean it will be easier for them to cope with, NMFA reports. Children of this age tend to be more involved in activities outside of school, which can keep them occupied or distracted while their parent is away. However, these activities may also make them feel angry or sad because the deployed parent is missing them.
Parents can help this age group by telling the child about the deployment early on and sharing as much information about the location and the culture as they can. It can also be helpful to come up with a communication plan and have the child keep a journal during the deployment. It is also important for parents to discuss the deployment with the child's teachers at school so they can keep an eye out for signs of distress.Teenagers
Adolescence is an intense time of change in general, but it can be magnified when a parent is deployed. NMFA reports that studies have shown this age group as having the most difficulty with academics and risk behaviors when a parent was deployed. Teens are often called upon to help the other parent with household tasks and taking care of siblings, which can cause them to miss activities in and outside of school.
The organization recommends parents who are deploying plan a special day to spend alone with the teen before they leave. This way, they can get a better feel for how their son or daughter is feeling about the deployment and strengthen their bond with the child before leaving.
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