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Helping Children Cope During Deployment

This fact sheet contains useful information for you — parents and family caregivers — to help children cope during a parents’ deployment. Experts in military medicine and family trauma who understand the impact of deployment on families have written this fact sheet. It is in the form of commonly asked questions followed by their responses. It is important to remember that while deployments are stressful, they also provide opportunities for families to grow closer and stronger. The best way to help children cope is to 1) reassure them that the deployed parent is trained to do his/her job; 2) explain to children that they, too, have a job as part of the family at home who supports our troops and our nation; and, 3) communicate in ways that children can understand according to their age (see sidebar on page 2: Communicating with Children during Deployment).

Commonly Asked Questions from Parents About Deployment

Q. What is the best way to prepare children for deployment?

A.Parents must be honest, and focus on their children’s safety, security and continuity of routine. If deployment will change the child’s lifestyle such as moving, living with grandparents, or changing childcare, school or community activities, the child needs to hear of these things in advance.

Q. How else can we reassure our children about a deployment?

A. First, parents should digest the information before they communicate it to children so they can deliver it in a calm and reassuring manner. Second, children worry about the safety of the deployed parent. It is important to let children know that the deployed parent is trained to do their job. Third, it is important to communicate in a way that your child will understand based on their age.

Q. How do children signal their distress?

A. Stress affects children like it does adults. Children may complain of headaches, stomach distress and sleep disturbances. They may display moodiness, irritability, low energy, and have more dramatic reactions to minor situations such as stubbing a toe. It can be difficult sometimes to sort out normal distress and more serious problems. If in doubt, seek medical advice.

Q. Are there ways to reduce stress on children during the separation?

A. Yes, one very positive way is emphasize to your children that they have a job that is as REAL as that of the deployed parent. Stress is often the result of feeling helpless or unsure or unclear about a new role or situation. It is important to reinforce that doing well in school, helping out at home and being cooperative is a skill set that is part of their job, one that is valued and unique to their being a military child. When children do their job they help support their parent’s mission.