Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Are You Deployment Ready: Children & Deployment

Every deployment is going to be a different experience for you and your family, especially in regards to your children. Your babies are growing up, learning new things, and becoming more aware of what is going on in the world around them.

Last deployment, Little Miss was just over a year old. It was easy in some ways because she didn't realize what was going on when Daddy said goodbye for a while. However, after he didn't come home for a few days she figured it out. This time when Hubs is out for work-ups, she knows the instant we drop him off at the pier what is going on and she is not a happy camper.

Here are a few examples of how children in different stages deal with deployment separation:

Birth - 12 Mos.
  • Changes in eating and sleeping patterns.
  • May want to be held more.
  • May seem "fussier"
Ages 1 - 3 Years
  • Show regression in walking or potty training.
  • Cry for no apparent reason.
  • Whine and cling to you.
Pre-Schoolers/Kindergarten Age
  • Clinging to people or favorite toy/blanket
  • Unexplained crying or tearfulness.
  • Increased acts of anger or frustration.
  • Sleep difficulties, nightmares, frequent waking.
  • Worry about the safety of everyone.
  • Eating difficulties.
  • Fear of new people or situations
School Age
  • Change is school performance.
  • Increase in complaints of stomach aches, headaches, or other illness when nothing physically seems to be wrong.
  • More irritible or crabby.
  • Fascinated with the military or news about it.
  • Worry about family and finances.
  • Acting out behaviors (getting into trouble with school, at home, or with the law).
  • Low self-esteem and self-criticism.
  • Misdirected anger.
  • Loss of interest in usual hobbies or activities.

All of those are typical reactions to the stress of separation. To me, that list makes my heart ache for my daughter. What can I do to help prepare her for how to handle all of these emotions? 

Children who cope well with separation often have a good relationship with parents. Hubs is trying to spend as much quality time with Little Miss as possible. When he is home, he is very much a part of her day-to-day activities. Little Miss feels comfortable going to Daddy for help and she is not hesitant to cuddle with him when she needs it.

They have a strong sense of self-worth or self-confidence. I am not quite sure how to do this with a toddler, but I encourage her to try new things and cheer her on. When she gets frustrated, I help her out but I do not just fix the problem for her. She needs to figure some things out on her own. When she does, I can tell she is so proud of herself. When Hubs leaves for a long period of time, I try to be extra encouraging. I will tell her "Good Job!" alot more and give her more recognition, "Thank you for picking up your toys, you make Mommy proud! Good Job!". This can be done for children of any age I would think, a little positive recognition can go a long way.

An understanding of parent's job and why it is important for them to go on deployment. I think this concept is a out of Little Miss's grasp right now. When I tell her Daddy is at work, she is satisfied with that response. For older children, its about educating your child about what your spouse does without scaring them or making them worry about their deployed parents safety. How do you parents out there of older children do this? I would love to hear your suggestions!

Dependable communication between deployed parent and family. Thanks to technology, there are a variety of ways to accomplish this! There are things like Skype and Video Teleconferencing (VTCs). You can use email or snail mail. I think the more you do, the better it will be. Our ship did VTCs during the last deployment and I was surprised that not many people utilized this! We also did a video recording of Hubs reading a book to Little Miss, so we watched that every night before she went to sleep. I plan on doing this again for sure it was a big hit! When Hubs was able to call last deployment, at the end of our phone conversation I would put the phone on speaker and let Little Miss talk to him. She was always so excited to hear his voice. If she were older, I would allow her to email Daddy. Helping put together Care Packages is alot of fun too!

An adult who will listen and talk to them. Although Little Miss cannot communicate her feelings to me very well, since Hubs left I  have been giving extra attention and I have tried to be more sensitive to her needs. I want her to know that whatever she feels is normal and okay; I want to try and normalize her reactions to the separation and stress. While it may be agitating that she is so clingy and needy, she needs me to be there for her. 

As a military spouse, we make many sacrifices. When you are a military spouse and parent, you make even more for the sake of your child. While I may be feeling sad and depressed about Hubs leaving, I can't let those emotions prevent me from being a supportive and understanding parent to Little Miss. She needs me even more than ever when her Daddy is away. This is just another one of those instances where you have to put the needs of your children before yours. At first this may be hard, but in the end both you and your children will be happier and more well adjusted to the situation.

Fleet & Family Support Centers have this wonderful DVD & Booklet (for FREE) from Sesame Street called "Talk, Listen, Connect" that helps explain deployment to the little ones. Little Miss loves Sesame Street so I am looking forward to working this video into our routine.

I think it is important to stick to as much of a routine as possible. However, I do allow flexibility in our schedule for when Little Miss has a bad day. I want to work in new & exciting activities for her as well like going to the water park once a week this summer and taking road trips! So balancing out routine and new, fun activities will be my challenge.

When Daddy leaves, I want to do "A Kiss A Day From Daddy" jar full of candy kisses. I will count the days that he is gone and fill the jar with that many candies. Little Miss will get one everyday that he is gone. I think it will be a fun way to count down the days! There are many different ways to do countdowns that involve the kids. I have a friend that does paper rings for each day they are gone and she takes one down for every day that passes.

Don't be afraid to ask for help or suggestions from friends & family when it comes to ways to help your child cope with deployment. If your children are having a really tough time, you do have resources available to you. Fleet & Family Support Centers are an excellent example. Simply typing "Deployment and Kids" into Google gives tons of results!

Every child is going to adjust differently and at their own pace. Just be as patient as possible and use the information available to you for help!

The next post in my "Are You Deployment Ready?" series will be about the resources that are available to military families.

*All of this information I put together from personal experience & information from Fleet & Family Support Centers*

On a much lighter note, don't forget about my GIVEAWAY for the Yarn Wreath with Felt Flowers! There aren't many entries yet so you have a better chance of winning, just make sure you enter by Friday, January 20th at 12:01AM!


  1. Spot on. And this is (for me) the worst part about the deployment. Baby Girl knows when Daddy is gone, but she's too young to understand why. Thanks for the great info!

    1. It is the hardest part for me too! I know how to deal with my emotions but teaching a toddler or child to deal with theirs, not the easiest. Where is that instruction manual that I was supposed to get with Little Miss it would probably help out alot right now...

      Thanks for sharing my blog posts on your Facebook page :)