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Helping A Child Cope Who Has A Parent in the Military

When a family is coping with a caretaker’s absence, it can be challenging and emotional, especially when it is due to deployment and military service.  The emotions, concerns, and needs of each family are unique but here is some information on what to expect from children when one of their caretakers are away on deployment, and some information on how to answer difficult questions children may have.blog-military-main-landscape

Here are some helpful hints about what to tell your children regarding their caretaker’s deployment:

  • Emphasis that the child is not at fault in any way for the parent leaving.
  • Let the child know where the parent will be. This can help reduce some anxiety about their absence.  You can show them where it is on a map, learn about the country where they are (language, customs, etc.).   In addition,  it can be helpful to talk about the parent’s schedule when they are gone and what they will be doing when they are there.  Remember to keep that information age appropriate.
  • TALK about it! Encourage your child to talk about their feelings regarding the deployment and acknowledge that it’s okay to feel that away. A child has a right to be sad or angry about the recent change.  Also, talk about the parent who is gone.  It is important to talk about the parent to help keep their presence at home and to help the adjustment when the parent returns.
  • Limit the outside information (news, papers, movies, and internet) that the child can access about war or military action. Make sure the information they do get is accurate and age appropriate.

Each child and family is different and their reactions can have a wide range of feelings and behaviors, but here is a few common reactions children may experience when coping with a parent on deployment.

0-2 years old: One of the biggest changes for this age group will be when the caretaker returns from deployment.  It is important to allow the child to warm up to the caretaker and understand that they need to get know the parent again.

3-5 years old:  At this age, children have difficulty understanding why the caretaker had to leave.  They also may be scared that the at-home parent may leave as well.  Being consistent in their schedule prior to deployment can help them feel calm and secure.   Adjusting to life after deployment can be difficult for this age group as well.  They may feel angry at the parent for leaving.

6-12 years old:  Be on the lookout for increased aggression or behavioral issues at home or school, or physical symptoms like stomachaches or headaches.  Children who are older may want to help out more around the house and take on that parent role.  Although there are still some concerns with adjustment after deployment, children in this age group are usually excited and proud of the returning caretaker.

13-17 years old:  Teens express emotions and feelings in a wide variety of ways and that is even truer of teens coping with a parent being deployed.  Teens may want to help out more, or act indifferent to the change.  It is important to look out for behavioral or mood changes.

The most important aspect of everything discussed in this blog is COMMUNICATION.  Allow your children to discuss their feelings and let them know it is okay for them to feel the way they do.

References:

http://militarykidsconnect.dcoe.mil/parents/coping/behaviors

http://www.military.com/spouse/military-deployment/dealing-with-deployment/help-child-cope-with-parents-deployment.html

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Highland Park, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Milwaukee! If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates!

Social Work

Amy Fontana

Amy Fontana

Amy Fontana is a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) with a passion for working with children and adolescents. She earned her Bachelor of Social Work from Indiana University- Bloomington and continued to earn her Master of Social Work degree from Tulane University in New Orleans, LA. Amy has worked in a school setting focusing on behavioral intervention and modification, as well as providing home based therapy. Amy has a background in working with children in psychiatric and behavioral crisis through the SASS (Screening, Assessment, and Support Services) Program in the Chicagoland area. She has worked with children presenting with depression, ADHD, mood disorders, aggression, and trauma.

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