Returning home after deployment is exciting, but it can also be an adjustment for everyone. Routines and roles may have changed, and it can take some time for everyone to find a new normal. For children in particular, this may be emotional or confusing. Here are five ways service members can help make reintegration easier for children.
1. Plan special reunion activities with children
Plan a special activity to spend time with each child after you return home. This could be as simple as visiting a zoo, going out for ice cream or playing a favorite sport together. It can also be helpful to try some new activities or rituals dedicated to spending time together — like pizza or board game nights, or evening bedtime stories. Be creative — time with children doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive – just have fun and enjoy spending time with each one individually.
2. Make time to let children talk
Children will probably have questions about your deployment. Be careful what you reveal about your experience. Make time to listen to their thoughts, be respectful of their feelings and address their concerns. It’s also important to be supportive and allow them to express their emotions.
3. Recognize and adapt to how they’ve changed
Routines at home may have shifted during deployment. It can help to learn about changes to children’s schedules and be open and flexible to new approaches or responsibilities. You may notice changes in your children’s interests or personalities as well. In fact, your children might even seem more mature than you expected. Make time to get to know them again and learn about their new interests. And remember to recognize and congratulate them on their new responsibilities and achievements.
4. Monitor changes in behavior
Children often respond differently to stress than adults. If you see a change in or unusual behavior, or changes in sleeping and eating habits or academic performance, you might want to talk to a professional. The Military and Family Life Counseling (MFLC) Program helps service members and families manage the challenges of military life, such as deployment adjustments. Child and Youth Behavioral MFLCs have licensed counselors to support children. Learn more about how counseling can help kids develop healthy habits.
5. Let children adjust at their own pace
Above all, be patient. Each child responds to reintegration differently, and it may take time to adjust.