So you’re deploying. You’ve set up a parenting plan to start, but now you’re wondering how to help your children deal with their upcoming new reality. Being away from your children can be hard on all parties involved, and this is often even truer for single parents. From expressions of separation anxiety like acting out, to concrete physical symptoms like stomach aches, kids can react strongly to being away from a parent.
Knowing your child may be experiencing these things can take its toll on you, impeding your ability to stay calm and focused while you’re away. It’s critical to ensure your child is in trusted hands during your deployment because chances are, you’ll be facing situations that require your complete attention. You’ll want to be able to rest easy, knowing they’re in a good situation; likewise, they will feel safest and most secure with people who can support them and address any concerns they have.
If you’re facing deployment, it’s worth considering how you will help your children cope with it well in advance. With that in mind, here are 4 ways to start preparing for your planned deployment.
1. Talk to Your Children
The first step in preparing your children for your deployment is talking to them about the upcoming event and their feelings about it. Things you should cover in initial talks include: where you’re going (show them on a map or globe), how long you’ll be gone, why you’re going, where they will be staying and with who, and what your and their day-to-day lives will look like.
Ask them how they feel about your deployment, and encourage them to ask any questions they might have. Sometimes these questions might be uncomfortable, but it’s essential to let them get any pressing concerns off their chests. When you respond to questions, be honest. If you don’t know the answer to something, tell them that. If they ask if it will be dangerous, tell them the truth, while also explaining all of the systems in place to keep you safe.
Take the time to work through all of their questions and concerns, and let them know they can talk to you about it again if they need to.
2. Find Supportive Peer Groups
Sometimes the best support is peer support; no one understands a situation more than someone who’s going through it too. In this case, you should look to find other children whose parent(s) have been deployed. Around three percent of American children have parents who have been deployed, and there are organizations that exist to bring them together to share their questions, concerns, and thoughts about it. Sharing these experiences in an organized peer setting ensures children are understood and supported at their own level, while still having access to professionals who can step in if needed.
3. Limit/Monitor Media Coverage of War
War can be scary, and media coverage often only perpetuates that perception. Bad news is far more likely to be reported than good news, so headlines may skew a child’s perspective of deployment toward thinking it’s far more dangerous than it actually is. Even accurate, responsible reporting might contain imagery that is upsetting to a child, so it’s often a good idea to avoid war coverage for younger, grade-school-aged children.
However, if you have older children, it can be impossible to prevent them from seeing coverage online or on TV. In these cases, it’s sometimes better to sit down and watch coverage from reliable networks with your older child to ensure he or she gets the full, accurate story and learns to apply a critical approach to what is being seen and heard. If your child is coming across coverage of the war, intentionally or not, make sure to take time to analyze what has been seen, what your child thinks about it, and answer any questions that may come up throughout the process.
4. Create a Family Emergency Plan
Creating a family emergency plan can help both you and your child feel safer when you’re deployed. A family emergency plan guarantees your child has all the necessary contact information in case there is a crisis; it also ensures that everyone knows where they will go if such an event occurred.
As you prepare for deployment, the most important thing you can do (after talking to your child, of course) is talk to a lawyer to ensure there is a clear custody plan in place, and that your child will be well cared for while you’re away. Contact Father’s Rights to get that conversation started today.