Preparing Children for Separations
The last separation we went through was a tough one. My son was nine and my daughter was three. While my son was a deployment pro, my daughter was still at an age when she didn’t understand what a deployment was, or why daddy had to be gone for so long.
While there haven’t been any more deployments since then, we have gone through our fair share of separations. The one thing I will always keep in mind is that, with children, you have to be proactive and honest.
There are several things you can do to help the little ones ease into the idea of a separation.
- Communication. Waiting to tell your kids or telling them as soon as you find out about a deployment is a decision you must make as a family. You know your kids, and must decide whether it will do them more harm than good. For us, we tell our kids a couple of months ahead of time that daddy is going to go away with the Army, and he won’t be back for a while. While they can’t wrap their young minds around what’s coming, kids are tough. Telling them ahead of time helps them to prepare and adjust to the idea. Encouraging kids to ask questions is helpful to the process.
- Mail. One month before my husband left for his seven-month training, he started to send both kids postcards in the mail. This is a great way to get them used to the idea that they will be close pen pals with daddy. Whether they are just short notes or long written letters, it is a special way for kids to feel close to their soon-to-be-deployed parent.
- Tap into Resources. We received a copy of Sesame Street Workshop Talk, Listen, Connect, when we went to a Yellow Ribbon Event. But, you can also access it here. We use this DVD anytime my husband leaves for a long period of time, and it really helps the kids understand what’s happening. Watch it together with kids to answer any questions they may have. There are also printable and additional resources and information for parents to use. By watching popular characters going through a similar separation, it helps kids to relate and normalize what is happening. While my now 11-year-old son doesn’t relate to these resources, he enjoys helping his sister and explaining to her his knowledge of separations.
- Skype. We live in a wonderful time of expanded communication. Tools such as Skype have really helped military families to connect with their deployed ones from overseas. Seeing each other can surely help ease some of the heartache that kids go through during separations. Before any separation, we always perform a few trial runs to get the kids used to talking with daddy via the computer.
- Reassurance. Going back to letting kids ask questions, we make sure we answer any questions they may have to help reassure them. Also, talk about the separation with others who will be in contact with your kids often. This will help kids understand that they have support in various forms and from the people they trust and love. We bring teachers, principals, our parents and neighbors into the conversation of the upcoming separation.
- Responsibility. Does your spouse have something they absolutely love? My husband is an avid gamer. He loves video games, and he often lets the kids sit in the recliner beside him and play games together. Before he left, he asked the kids to take very good care of his remote control and to please hold onto it, until his return. This gives kids something of their loved ones that they are responsible for and that will remind them of those fun times they’ve had together. It doesn’t have to be a family heirloom, but something that will provoke happy thoughts and good memories.
Separations are never easy, and they don’t get any easier as you go through them. There are tears, various emotions that, at times, will be difficult to handle as a single parent. But, doing what you are able to early in advance will help to prepare kids and make the transition as easy as possible.
You’ll make it through this next separation with lots of love, support and Skype.
About the Blogger
Angela Caban is an Army National Guard spouse, mother of two, freelance writer, published author and branding expert. In 2010, she founded the Homefront United Network, a military spouse and family support blog created to assist spouses who do not live near an installation, and she is also co-founder of SpouseTalks. As a branding and digital influencer, she has created content for A&E, Lifetime Network and PBS. Currently, Angela serves as a Community Manager for USAA, writing about her experiences in deployment and military life.