These are tips that I have gathered from Army wives who are moms and I hope you will find them useful as well. If you have other tips to share, please email me. Also, all of these tips refer to dad as being the one who is away but can just as easily be used if mom is the one who is deployed.
1. Have Dad record himself reading several books. These recordings can be played nightly at bedtime to the kids. This can even be an ongoing activity if Dad takes a small tape recorder with him.
2. Have pictures of Dad around. Give the kids a wallet size of picture of Dad to carry with them.
3. Set up a countdown method. This can be putting a certain number of Hershey’s Hugs & Kisses in a jar and taking one out each day so they can get a hug or kiss from dad. Or it could involve a paper link chain where you remove one link each day. To guard against disappointment, always add a few days to your countdown in case there is a delay.
4. Let the kids send whatever they want to dad – whether it’s a letter, a coloring book page or a gift. It’s important to let them express themselves.
5. Communicate regularly through written letters, pictures, videotapes and audio tapes. If the kids are old enough, allow them to email and share pictures this way. This is as important for him as it is for the kids.
6. Let the children express their emotions – good or bad. If they are mad or upset at dad for leaving, let them express it. Then make sure you tell them that dad loves them, misses them and would rather be home too but he has an important job to do.
7. Avoid the news if at all possible. It will be very hard to reassure them of Dad’s safety if they hear news accounts every day about soldiers being killed. If you feel your kids must be around the news, make sure they are hearing the positive stories about our soldiers and what they are doing.
8. Take your kids out to look at the stars. Remind them that dad is looking at the same stars so it seems he isn’t so far away.
9. Save messages on your answering machine. Play back the messages when the kids want to hear dad’s voice. This could even be pre-arranged with dad recording a special message.
10. Do special things that only happen when Dad is away. For example, have ice cream sundaes for dinner once a week. Let the kids eat dessert first every once in a while. Visit a museum. Go to a certain park on the weekends.
11. Be sure the teachers know that Dad has deployed so they can help and also alert you to any changes in your child’s behavior.
12. Have Dad buy special gifts or write notes for your children that you can hide around your home when the kids are having a bad day. You can then give them clues to help them find their special message from dad.