Military children continuously make unique contributions and sacrifices on behalf of our country, including navigating multiple moves, frequently changing schools and shouldering multiple deployments.
Deployment is often a stressful and challenging time for military families, especially children. Their reactions to a parent’s deployment will vary with their ages and personalities. For example:
- Very young children may experience separation anxiety, temper tantrums and changes in eating habits.
- School-age children may experience a decline in grades and have mood changes.
- Teens may become angry and act out – or withdraw and show signs of apathy (lack of interest).
Whatever their ages or stages, the following tips can help parents prepare their children for the challenges that deployment brings.
QuickNote: April marked the Month of the Military Child, a time to honor their courage, sacrifice and continued resilience.
How to Talk to Your Kids about Deployment
- Keep your children informed. Be open and honest about the deployment and separation. Often, what they imagine is much worse than reality.
- Be available when your kids want to talk and let them ask questions. Treat their questions with respect and seriousness. Show patience if they repeatedly ask the same questions and you have to repeat the same answers.
- Let them know that it’s OK to share their feelings – even negative ones.
- Use age-appropriate language.
- Talk about the deployment during regular conversations – at dinnertime, bedtime or while playing.
- Discuss what will happen when you are away and what may be different while you are gone.
- Talk about what each kid will be doing during the separation.
- Invite your older kids to share past deployment experiences with their younger brothers and sisters.
Your kids will want to know:
- When will you leave?
- Why are you leaving?
- Where are you going and what will it be like there?
- What will you do there?
- Who else is going?
- Will you be safe?
- When will you come back?
QuickNote: Talk to your kids about the deployment well in advance to give them time to adjust to the news, share feelings, begin to accept it and boost coping mechanisms before the separation. Military Kids Connect offers online resources to support children dealing with the challenges of military life.
Tips for Reassuring Your Kids before Deployment
- Tell them they will be safe while you are away and that you will do everything you can to stay safe yourself.
- Offer comfort by touching and holding them.
- Let them know that you love them and are proud of them for all that they will do to be helpful while you are away.
- Reassure them that you will stay in touch as often as possible, and that you are thinking of them even if you can’t write, email, message or call.
- Assure your kids that you will miss them every day and look forward to coming home.
- Very young kids need to see where Mom or Dad eats, sleeps and spends the day when away from home. You can do this through pictures or videos to give them a concrete image of where you will be and why you can’t come home.
- Reassure them that the changes are temporary.
Positive Aspects of Deployment
Most military kids who are faced with the stress of deployment gain independence and self-confidence. As they take on additional responsibilities, they develop new skills, interests and abilities, and become resourceful. Parent-child relationships are often strengthened by the new challenges that arise during deployment. Families discover new sources of support and strength.
For more information on helping families navigate military life, including practical information for families who are expecting or who have very young children, browse the QS library of guides, including: New Parent Support Program