Getting ready for a deployment can be challenging — especially for children. It’s important to help each child prepare individually, based on their age and unique personality. It’s also important to make sure they know it’s OK for them to ask questions and express their feelings.
Ages 5 and Below
Very young children may not understand that their parent is leaving or why, but they still need support during this change. Here are some ways you can help younger children prepare for a deployment:
- Pre-record a bedtime story or favorite song. When your child is missing mom or dad, you will be prepared with a recording of their voice.
- Find resources tailored to younger children. Sesame Street for Military Families offers a variety of videos, printable activity sheets and more to help children cope with the challenges of military life. Check out their Deployment products and tips. The ZERO TO THREE organization also provides printable information about coping strategies for young children.
- Identify important milestones. While younger children may not find meaning or comfort in a specific calendar date, letting them know that their deployed parent will be home by their birthday or other milestone can help them to mark the time.
As children get older, conversations about deployment can become more complex. Some ways you can prepare children in this age range include:
- Help pack and prepare. Letting children play a role in deployment preparations may help them to feel a part of the process and give them a sense of control.
- Assign responsibilities. Taking on new responsibilities can help children feel included and cope with new changes. Explain that taking on new chores during a deployment is an important contribution and helps the family as a whole.
- Learn about where their parent is going. Share as many positive elements as possible about where the deployed parent is going and what they’ll be doing there. Help your child learn about the location by showing the location on a map and describing their parent’s work and why it’s important.
- See if the installation has a youth deployment line. A mock deployment line gives youth a small peek into how their parent is preparing for deployment. Ask the youth center or military and family readiness center.
Ages 12 and Up
Older children are better able to understand and anticipate the realities of deployment and might need additional support. Consider options like:
- Make individual communication plans. Have an individual discussion with each child about what communication will be and establish expectations.
- Provide resources directly. Point your child towards resources through your installation or through school, and allow them to decide what will be most helpful. Check out the following:
- Exchange important keepsakes. Before deployment, give your child a meaningful item from their deploying parent — like a favorite T-shirt — and help your child pick something of theirs to give in return.
Use your resources
Deployment can be a great opportunity to build your community support network. Contact your installation Military and Family Support Center to find out about deployment assistance and other helpful services such as child care, the New Parent Support Program, the Exceptional Family Member Program, information on the Child and Youth Behavioral Military and Family Life Counselor program and more.
If you don’t live near an installation, Military OneSource consultants are always available to help you find the support you need. Call 800-342-9647, use OCONUS dialing options, or schedule a live chat. In addition, Military OneSource offers free-confidential non-medical counseling to help you navigate military life challenges such as deployment adjustment, parenting issues, stress management and more. Learn about non-medical counseling services.
Make sure to let teachers and coaches know when a parent is deploying. This helps them understand and address any potential behavior or performance issues that might come up. It’s also a good idea to be sure that other important adults in your children’s lives are aware of upcoming deployments so that they might be able to help. Read these four ways family and friends can help support children through deployment.
Preparing for deployment may seem overwhelming, but planning ahead can help make sure everyone knows what to expect and where to get support.