All kids — no matter their age — want and need their parents to protect and care for them. And all parents want to be able to tell their kids that mommy and daddy will always be close by.
But when a parent leaves for military service, that comforting balance is disrupted. Some parents have to leave their families for long stretches of time. Some will be in harm’s way. And despite the pride our men and women in the armed services feel in serving their country — and the knowledge that they are well trained to do so — military families can’t help but worry how their kids will manage in a parent’s absence.
There’s no easy way to tell a child that a parent has to go away. Yet once a deployment date is set, it’s important to give kids some advance notice, especially if a parent’s deployment will involve big changes like a move or a new primary caregiver.
Here are some tips to consider:
Be honest. The words you use are important and can mean different things depending on a child’s age and maturity, so give kids the truth in terms they can understand. For example, for young children, the concept of a long separation is a lot harder to grasp than the fact that mommy won’t be there to take them to school in the mornings or that daddy won’t be back until after Christmas. They often do better with visual reminders, such as a calendar with dates checked off to mark the passage of time. Older kids, on the other hand, especially those who watch the news, may react with a greater sense of worry and fear. Reassure them that people in the military are trained to do their jobs and every effort will be made to ensure safety.
Let kids know that they will be taken care of. Kids need to feel protected in a parent’s absence, so tell them who will be taking care of them during the time away. Young children, especially, may have questions about their daily routine. Be patient and consistent if they ask the same questions over and over — repeated reassurances will help them feel more secure.
Make a plan to stay connected. Let kids know that goodbyes are hard for everyone — even grown-ups. Remind them that they’ll be thought of and loved while the parent is away, and talk about the people who will be there to help them feel better when they’re feeling sad. Invite your child to come up with ideas to stay connected — from sending emails to promising to think about each other at the same time every day