Deployment and moving — they’re well-known words to military children, but that doesn’t mean they won’t struggle with them.
Thankfully, there are many resources that can help children cope with adjusting to the unfamiliarity and uncertainty of those major life changes.
Sometimes younger children don’t understand why you’re leaving, so they might express sadness, anger and even act out. Talk them through the deployment, listen to their concerns and help them find positive ways to cope, like doing group activities or giving them a job to do. They’ll also likely go through emotional highs and lows when you’re gone. Be sure to stay in frequent contact, write them personally and stay involved in their education.
Tools, apps to help:
The nonprofit Sesame Workshop has worked with the Department of Defense for years to help young children cope with deployment through free DVDs, toolkits and a deployment-related app. There are also several free books and booklets to explore.
Teens are already going through physical and emotional changes, so when deploying, be sure to focus on the positives. While they can take on more responsibility, teens will also have a lot of concerns. Learn how to prepare them for your absence, as well as what you should do if troubling behavior erupts while you’re gone.
Moving is another stressful challenge for children. To ease the transition, make sure your child is part of the planning process and given a role during the move. Stay upbeat so they don’t get stressed, and let them adjust to the changes at their own pace.
Children need routines for a sense of security and stability. Try to maintain one as much as possible, and let kids know they’ll get back to normal once you’re settled.
Sesame Workshop offers an app called Big Move Adventure, which helps young children deal with relocation. The Babies on the Homefront and Let’s Play apps also offer behavior tips and ideas for playtime activities.
Military families move about six to nine times by the time a child is 18. For teens, that can be a serious emotional rollercoaster — leaving friends, making new ones and trying to adjust to a new town and school, with the possibility of doing it all over again.
While your teen may seem like he or she can handle it, know they really need your support. Click here for some tips on how to help them prep to move, say goodbye and settle into their new community.
This part can be one of the toughest for a teen, especially if it’s in the middle of the school year. Parents need to make sure the new school gets all the necessary paperwork so their student — who could be either behind or ahead of the class — is on the right learning level. Also, encourage teens to do some research: How does the new school compare to the old one? Are there any good clubs or teams to join?
The youth sponsorship program connects teens with others who already know the new school and installation. Sponsors can answer questions, give tours and introduce your teen to new friends. Virtual tours posted by teens on YouTube show newbies the great things at each installation. There are also tips to help the friend-making process easier.
Once your teen gets closer to college, know there are also great loan, grant and scholarship opportunities for military students.
Preparing for being a single parent:
If your spouse is getting deployed, you may suddenly find yourself alone, albeit temporarily, in raising your children. You’ll need to plan emotionally and financially for possible hardships, help your child adjust, and you’ll need to learn who you can turn to for help. Get tips here.
What to do when you get home:
Being away from your child long-term is difficult enough, but it’s often hard to reconnect once you’re home from deployment. Your child has grown and changed, and they may have confusing feelings toward you. Military OneSource offers great tips on how to transition back to family life. It also has resources for new fathers returning home, as well as tips for moms to reintegrate.