Children are very perceptive. If they see that their parents are sad, they'll pick up on this feeling. Children also tend to internalize the emotions or events that occur around them unless an alternative reason is given. For example, if Mommy is sad, they may think, "I make Mommy sad." Rather than deny being sad, explain to your children that Mommy is sad because she misses Daddy, but Mommy will be okay. This is a good time to engage your children in a talk about how they're feeling about the deployed parent being gone and to let them know that what they're feeling is okay, too.
It's important to spend quality time with each of your children. Try to spend at least twenty minutes one-on-one with each of your children on a daily basis, which will create quality time for the child and parent and improve the child's sense of being loved and acknowledged.
Together, as a family, you and your child can decide what you want to do to make each other feel better.
Maybe you can make something for the deployed parent, assemble another care package, read a story to your child that the deployed parent usually reads, watch home movies that feature that parent, or cook the deployed parent's favorite meal while taking pictures. Whatever it is, find ways to have fun and revel in your time with each other. Do not have a "wait until Daddy or Mommy gets home" mentality. Enjoy the time you have together now!
Don't think the absence of one parent means that the family shouldn't be enjoying themselves. Now is the time to explore your relationship with your children and bond with them more than ever before. Children of all ages are affected by the long-term absence of a parent. Here are some examples of books and other tools designed to make that absence a bit easier:
- Books for Military Children A comprehensive list of over fifty fiction books portraying children with parents in the U.S. military, separated according to age and reading level.
- Flat Daddy/Flat Mommy For younger children, having a Flat Daddy or Mommy can ease the pain of their absence. Flat Daddies/Mommies are life-sized prints of the deployed service member.
- Daddy Doll/Mommy Doll Daddy or Mommy Dolls are stuffed dolls based upon a photo of the deployed service member. These dolls allow children to actually "hug" the deployed parent. Some military installations will make these for free during the deployment. If that isn't the case for your service member, you can also order one online.
- Operation Military Kids The U.S. Army's collaborative effort with America's communities to support children and youth impacted by deployment.
- Our Military Kids Grants to National Guard and Reserve children for enrichment activities or tutoring while the service member is deployed.
- MilitaryKidsConnect MilitaryKidsConnect (MKC) is an online community of military children (ages six to seventeen) that provides access to age-appropriate resources to support children from pre-deployment through a parent's or caregiver's return.
- Military Families Near and Far A bilingual website for military families to help children and parents stay connected and communicate, designed by Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit organization behind Sesame Street.