Children going through the deployment of a parent may experience some reactions that are similar to those of children of divorce. They might worry about what will happen to them. They may worry that the non-deployed parent will leave, too. There is often a fear about who will take care of them if something happens, and they wonder if they did something to make the parent want to leave. These reactions can be particularly true if your family has trouble with mail deliveries or communication efforts during deployment. Many children may not fully understand why Mom or Dad is gone, and they may worry about that parent's safety. Your children will also be very perceptive about how the parent at home is feeling. So if you are worried and uneasy, your children are likely to show some of the same feelings.
Your children may continue to have these feelings of doubt, concern, and fear throughout the deployment period. There are some things you can do to help your children.
• Listen to the children and answer their questions. Be truthful and talk to them openly and honestly. Let them know they may ask questions and share concerns at any time. Be prepared to discuss the topics of death, violence, and politics.
• Keep routines and rituals. Some things clearly have changed. But try to hold on to some familiar activities. Consistency is important for children so they know what to expect.
• Share your feelings. Let your children know that even negative thoughts and feelings are OK and normal. Explain how you deal with uncomfortable feelings.
• Help the children feel connected to the parent who is gone. Use photos, phone calls, the Internet, and letters to help the children stay in touch with the deployed parent. Talk about him or her often.
• Remember that children live in the present. Some children will not always want to talk or think about the deployed parent. They may want to forget that Mommy is deployed. It does not mean that they do not care or love her.
• Make plans for communicating while the deployed parent is away. Work with your child to design or create an activity to help keep track of time. Younger children might want to make a paper chain with a link for each day the parent will be gone, if you know how long that will be. The child can remove a link each day. An older child could keep a calendar.
• Prepare your children for the holidays. Holidays can be especially rough if a parent is deployed. Make plans before the holiday arrives. Talk to your children's teachers about the best way to handle school holiday events. Be sure to know in advance how you will celebrate birthdays, religious holidays, Mother's Day, Father's Day, and others. If possible, the deployed parent can leave cards and gifts before leaving.
• Encourage ways for the deployed parent to stay connected. Help your children make a booklet of family pictures of things the family has done together and little messages to send to the deployed parent. Create a scarf of hugs made out of your family's handprints.
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