By: Michelle S. McIntyre-Brewer
Many military families are facing deployment on a regular basis as we face the War on Terror. Some of the most affected are the children that have a difficult time grasping what is happening in the world around them. The confusion and chaos that often surround the issue of deployment extends beyond the immediate family and can affect life on the playground, in school, and in other social situations.
Knowing what to say to children when faced with a deployment is often a struggle with any adult. Understanding how children are feeling and how to interpret their reactions can help to create a better relationship with everyone involved in the situation. Depending on the child’s age, adults can do certain things to ease the anxiety associated with a parent or loved one being deployed.
The most important thing an adult can do to help children deal with deployment is to educate them about what is happening.
Following these easy steps can help:
Making sure children understand what the word deployment means is incredibly important. The word is used in the media, at the dinner table, and in everyday conversation. Explaining where the Service Member is going (with a general overview of the region or country) and what he/she will be doing (without going into incredible detail) will help children gain an understanding of what is happening.
Informing a child that their loved one has been well-trained is incredibly important, but it is even more important to show them what is meant by that statement. Taking children to a training exercise that can be viewed from afar and explaining what is happening, getting a book from a library that shows pictures of Service Members being trained, or pulling out old photographs of a loved one graduating from schools is an excellent concrete way of helping children understand that their loved one is prepared to be deployed.
Children, at any age, will ask questions. The important thing to remember is that brushing off a question will not make it go away. Even the hardest questions need to be answered, but they should be answered in an age appropriate manner.
Be honest. Be fair. Children going through deployment deserve to have questions answered just as much as adults do. Not knowing how to answer every question is fine, but there are many sources available (also included in the article) that can help to answer even the most challenging of questions.
When children have responsibilities, they cope better. Informing the children that they have a job to do while their loved one is deployed is an excellent way to make sure they feel included and important.
Assigning a role can range according to a particular child’s needs from caring for a pet to writing a letter to their loved one on a weekly basis to volunteering in some capacity. Every child is different and will respond differently to deployment so something that can be enjoyed can help ease fear associated with being separated from a loved one for a long period of time.
Make sure children know that they have a resource. Being open and understanding will help facilitate conversation and ease deployment for, not only the child, but the adult as well.
These tips will help in family situations, at schools, FRGs, and any other setting, assuming children are dealt with in an age appropriate manner.