5 military-family tips that ignite conversation and combat sadness
Deployment — whether it’s the first or fifteenth time — is difficult on a family. When a loved one is called to service, the spouse and children are often left battling feelings that range from extreme pride and love to loneliness, anger and, oftentimes, resentment. Despite these feelings, families who understand each other’s feelings and needs can maintain good communication.
Jodi Salamino, MA, LPC, NCC, a Regional Manager for Health Net’s Military & Family Life Counselor program, says that the physical distance during deployment does not have to extend to an emotional one. It’s families who respect each other’s feelings, talk openly, keep a routine, stay engaged in regular family activities and have a sense of humor that are very successful at remaining connected.
“One of the best things a family can do,” recommends Salamino, “is put a flexible communication plan in place before deployment happens.”
The following five tips help manage communication expectations and add a sense of anticipation for engaging with a deployed parent.
- Draft a plan. Talk as a family before deployment to put communication strategies in place. Older children might use email and social media sites such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter to check in regularly, but this will largely depend on where the loved one is deployed and the kind of service that’s being done. The family may choose a flexible time to Skype, such as on the weekends, so everyone can look forward to face-to-face time. It’s also a good idea to have a back-up plan in place — something fun for the children — in case there’s ever scheduled communication that can’t happen on either end.
- Battle the bedtime blues. Younger children might need reassurance at bedtime. Vivid dreams about what the deployed parent may experience and a loss of tuck-in time takes a toll. Help the younger child feel secure with personalized toys, blankets and pillows made especially for military children from sites like daddydolls.com and Armed Services YMCA.
- Enlist crafters. Younger kids can trace a parent’s hand before deployment, and make it into a refrigerator magnet for a daily high five. Tweens and teens can create a memory book filled with pictures, quotes, drawings and journal entries that can be read during a phone call, shared on social media or during a Skype call.
- Retreat to games and apps. Tween and teens find comfort in many online games that increase their knowledge about deployment and service in general. Sites such as Military Kids Connect test kids’ military knowledge – which is something they can impress their parent with during the next communication! Younger kids enjoy UCLA’s FOCUS on the go! app which features videos, games, puzzles and story creators that can help them stay mentally strong, initiate conversation and improve communication over the miles.
- Capture attention before deployment. Salamino says there are things the parent leaving can do beforehand to help ease the transition and facilitate conversation while away. Leaving a “kiss jar,” a container filled with Hershey kisses, ensures that each family member will still get a kiss after dinner or before bedtime. Also, let children know the deployed parent will have access to a shared calendar. This makes it easy to keep up with a child’s social and school activities for the next time they talk.
While family life is sure to change during deployment, you can still have solid communication and treasured rituals. In fact, family values can actually be strengthened as kids develop a unique closeness — and grow to have a special appreciation — for their dedicated (in more ways than one!) parent.