Involve Your Child
Both the stay-at-home parent and the service member parent will need to decide which family member needs to know what information. For example, your service member will decide what the family as a whole will need to know (or can know) about his mission. You and your spouse should decide how much to tell your children. By all means, don't try to hide what's happening from the children. When your child asks you about your emotions, have an answer for her because not telling will only confuse her. As a parent, you need to have an appropriate answer, such as: "Mommy also misses Daddy and feels sad sometimes." A word of caution: Try not to burden or overwhelm your child with your concerns and worries—for example, sharing concerns about your service member being killed or seriously injured, or sharing your problems with finances.
"I don't want them to worry, so we just talk about how he's overseas helping people and leave it at that. When they get older we may give them more information but for now, it's just a 'work trip' to them." —National Guard spouse
Reminding your child of the larger purpose of the deployment will help him create meaning from this experience. Show your patriotism and make your child feel proud of his parent's service. Little things like hanging an American flag on your front porch or displaying a Blue Star Flag on your home or car window can go a long way.
"We tell them where he is going and that we will be able to write and send pictures and sometimes video chat, but that Daddy needs to go protect America." —Army spouse
Also, look for ways to involve others in your community in validating these feelings. Offer to help plan letter-writing events for deployed service members for your child's social, academic, and sports teams and organizations, and take her to events that highlight military service and the importance of serving others.
Don't forget to include your child's school in the news of a parent's deployment. Many schools now have a Military School Liaison (MSL) whose job is to coordinate educational opportunities and information to help military children succeed academically. If there is no MSL, Military Child Education Coalition's website (www.militarychild.org) has a variety of resources and information to help you ensure quality educational opportunities for your military child as you work with his school system.
Develop Fun Activities
Engage in pre-deployment activities that help spur discussion about the deployment experience in a positive way.
Make a Counting Chain
Buy construction paper, glue, markers, and scissors. Have everything ready to go before the deployment starts. Explain to your child that every day that the deployed parent is gone, you will write something on a strip of construction paper about what you did that day, how you feel that day, or anything they want to draw. Then you'll glue the ends together to make it a link around the previous link. When the parent returns, you may be able to decorate your entire house with your counting chain.
Build a Keepsake Box
Let your child decorate a shoebox. Daily or weekly, your child can place something inside the box. When your service member returns home, your child can show the deployed all the items in the box and explain why each one is there to explain and help remember events that happened in the service member's absence.
Create a Treat Jar
Select a large glass jar and fill it up with as many tiny candies (for example, jellybeans) as the number of days that your service member will be gone. Once a day, let your child go to the jar and have a candy to celebrate getting one day closer to the parent coming home. (If the deployment is lengthened, you can quietly add more.)
Design a Wishing Tree or Jar
A wishing tree offers a concrete reminder of the person who is away, while providing a place to collect wishes, hopes, and prayers. Learn more at www.survivingdeployment.com.
Make a Picture Map
Staple together a few pieces of paper and write headings for the various stages of the deployment. As each milestone is reached, have one family member draw a picture to indicate what's going on at home for the family and what's happening at the deployment site for your service member.
Daddy/Mommy on a Stick
Print out a picture of your service member and laminate it. Tape it to a Popsicle stick or other straight rod so that you have a travelable picture of your service member. Plan on places to take "Daddy/Mommy on a stick" while they are deployed. You can take it to your child's sporting and academic events or take pictures of them together doing homework. Send the pictures to your service member. Let your service member tell you where they want to see a picture taken (a favorite restaurant or park, for example).
Create a Map Collage
Encourage your child to cut out pictures of the country where the parent will be deployed and use them to create a collage of images.
This excerpt is provided courtesy of the acclaimed free digital resource "Everyone Serves". Download your free copy with additional media content today at everyoneservesbook.com.