April is the official Month of the Military Child, designed to celebrate the courageous kids of our nation’s heroes. Growing up can be hard on any kid, but military children have additional stresses that come along with the military lifestyle. Though they aren’t the ones in uniform, these kids are heroes and deserve to be celebrated.
Deployment is one of the hardest situations for military kids to cope with. To help make the process go as smoothly as possible, follow these key guidelines when talking to your kids about deployment.
Kids are smart, so hiding the deployment to protect them is not a good idea. Military.com suggests giving as much information as possible, in an understandable way, about “where the parent will be and what he or she will be doing.” As you’re talking, reinforce that the parent isn’t leaving because of anything the child did. A young child may think something he or she did has led to the parent leaving.
Instead of detailing the length of the time as a whole, talk about the deployment in chunks of time. Making the time manageable helps the deployment feel shorter to the child.
Share your feelings.
Your kids need to know that it’s OK and normal to be confused or upset. When you are open about your feelings, it will encourage your child to feel comfortable talking about their feelings as well. According to the National Military Family Association, while young children may not fully understand the situation, “older kids feel the burden of having to worry about the absent parent” and the additional responsibilities that may arise.
It’s important that your child has the opportunity to share how they’re feeling too, and it’s completely normal for the child to need to talk about how much he or she misses a parent.
Share information about location and culture.
Show your child on a map or globe where the deployment location is, and share a little bit about the weather and culture of that area. Keep the map or globe where the child can see it everyday to help alleviate stress and anxiety. This familiarity with the location can help the child cope with the separation during deployment.
Watch for signs of distress.
Though taking these steps may help, parents cannot prevent their children from experiencing stress and separation anxiety. Signs of distress include shrinking away from people, sleep and eating difficulties, fear of new situations, anger, trouble at school, and more.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has researched the effects of deployment on children and families and found the stress of deployment to be much higher than “frequent moves, absence of the military parent, and other stresses common to military families.” They have an online library of educational materials to support families and children dealing with the stress of military life.
Use resources available to your children.
In addition to open and honest communication with their parents, kids can reduce stress and anxiety by visiting The Military Kids Connect (MKC) website. MKC provides age-appropriate resources for children ages six to 17 years old dealing with the unique stresses and challenges of military life. MKC has games and maps for the younger kids, and message boards about tough topics for older kids. Having a community of people similar in age and experiencing similar stresses is extremely helpful for military kids.
Also, be sure to check your installation’s office of Child and Youth Services. There may be programs or services specifically for military children.
The Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund supports the physical and psychological health of active-duty service members and their families, including children. We cannot overlook the effects deployment has on military children, and it is of the utmost importance that steps are taken to care for their well-being during those difficult days.
Click here to learn more about the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund.