In 1986, Mady Segal described both the military and the family as “greedy institutions” that require an individual’s time, loyalty, energy, and commitment, and this pull between one’s career and one’s family is particularly evident during deployment. However, there are skills and tools available to military families that might lessen the burden while navigating the military lifestyle. While deployment can be challenging for the entire family, there are unique challenges that children face when a parent deploys. To help address these challenges, here are a few tips to keep in mind surrounding deployment:
1. Planning makes a difference.
Start by making a communication plan before the deployment occurs. Think of it as a battle plan for staying connected, a strategy to address the physical and emotional distance between the service member and the family that can be revised as needed. Encourage a conversation between the service member and his/her significant other or co-parent about communication styles (e.g., writing letters, phone calls) and patterns that will occur throughout the deployment. This planning period also includes the children; try giving them some autonomy in determining how they want to communicate with their deploying parent (e.g., video calls, letters). Then assess whether that communication plan is realistic and practical.
Video chat with parent every day.
When parent is available to video chat, child can be the first to talk to them for ~5 minutes by themselves.
2. Quality of communication is key.
A high quantity of communication (i.e., the number of times a parent and child can contact each other) may not be possible, but quality is. Evidence suggests children have fewer behavioral problems when (1) the deployed parent has frequent communication and (2) when the communication is emotionally positive (examples below). Emotionally positive communication is available any time you communicate, whereas the frequency with which communication occurs may be uncertain. Therefore, focus on what you can do to help your child through deployment by demonstrating warmth and connection each time you communicate with your child, regardless of how often communication occurs. Keep in mind that being warm may not come easily or naturally to all parents; if this applies to you, take a few minutes before calling to recollect positive things that you can share with or say to your child.
I heard you are doing well in _____________.
I was thinking about the last time we played together, and it made me smile!
Hearing your voice/seeing your face makes my day better.
Be on the lookout for a letter from me! It should be there in about __ days.
While deployment is difficult for military families, especially children, it is important to remember that there are many ways to help your child. Start by creating a communication plan as a family before deployment and remember to be as emotionally positive as possible during deployment communication. These steps help equip children to better manage the challenges of deployment.