To children, no news is worse than bad news.
Studies with children of deployed parents reveal that the children’s main preoccupation from day to day is not over the absent parent, but with the remaining parent. At some level, children are more concerned about what is going on with the remaining parent. If that parent becomes short, cross, self-absorbed, tearful, with no explanation, the child’s fantasies about that parent’s ability to function are worse than what the reality is. Thus, the remaining parent should be relatively open about sharing concerns and news about the deployed parent. If the child has an explanation as to why the parent is irritable, tearful, or preoccupied, it is much easier to accept. Parents should not use their children as surrogate adults and load all of their concerns on the child, but should use judgment in sharing enough to ease the child’s worries.
Listen to a child’s worries about the deployed parent and answer questions
as truthfully as possible.
Follow up a child’s questions with further questions as to what prompted them to bring up an issue. Listen carefully first, before trying to dispel what you consider to be false notions on the part of the child. Explore as far as possible a child’s question and concern to show that you are trying to understand what he/she is worried about. Don’t keep pursuing the issue after a child appears to be satisfied. Be reassuring about protective measures and training designed to protect the deployed parent, but do not make false assurances about not getting hurt or not dying.
Maintain firm routine and discipline in the home.
Under the best of circumstances, maintaining order and routine for children in the home is difficult. It is even more difficult when a parent is suddenly absent. The child will manifest anxiety about this new separation, and the concerns over the ability of the remaining parent to function, by testing the resolve of the remaining parent, testing rules, and flouting routines. With the increase in responsibilities, numbers of tasks and new stresses, it will be tempting not to pursue and enforce limits. Only later does it become evident that the stress level increases quickly, when it is too late. Be proactive and discuss with the child your intent to have very firm routines related to bedtimes, morning routines, room clean-up, chore accountability, and homework. Then follow through with a clear and predictable set of consequences and rewards to keep the program going.
Initiate and maintain a close relationship with the school and the child’s teacher.
Have a conference with the significant figures in the child’s schooling, depending on the child’s level. This may only involve the child’s classroom teacher for the young child, or others, such as several teachers, counselor, or principal for the older child or special needs child. Make clear to them that the child’s parent has been deployed and that there may be an increase in stress at home. Anticipate the first signs of stress in the child. Signs of vulnerability and stress are deteriorating academic performance, behavioral problems in the classroom, problems in peer relationships, unexplained mood changes, tearfulness or irritability, or worsening of previously existing behavioral problems. Have a plan devised with the school authorities for constructive and helpful interventions to support the child and redirect him/her to previous levels of successful function. Be ready to have further conferences if necessary. Be proactive and take the lead.
As the remaining parent, make sure you take care of yourself.
If one is interested in the wellbeing of a child, the dictum is always, “Take care of the caretaker.” Unfortunately, because of the many demands upon the remaining parent, it is difficult to make this happen. Taking care of oneself must be seen as a necessity and given high priority in planning. Frequently, the remaining parent is basically a working single parent. However, sit and plan a schedule, and include the child in the planning if it is appropriate. Let your child know that you will be much better able to take care of him/her, that you will be much more fun to be with, and have more energy if you can take time to get out and exercise, take a scheduled nap, have alone time, or take time with a good supportive friend. The time periods can be short, but should be planned, so that you are not feeling guilty. Express appreciation to your child when you take the time for yourself, and let him/her know how much better you feel.
I would like to thank Hooah 4 Health for providing much of this information to share with our service members and their families.
Independent filmmaker, author, happiness coach and speaker Lisa Cypers Kamen creates these blogs to entertain, enlighten and educate our service men and women along with their families as well as support our troops. To contact Lisa, email her directly at email@example.com and check out her websites at www.whatisyourhappiness.com , www.harvestinghappiness.com , and www.hh4heroes.org and listen to her on www.harvestinghappinesstalkradio.com or download her show at www.itunes.com.
Harvesting Happiness with Lisa Cypers Kamen brings to the airwaves a fresh talk radio approach promoting happiness, well-being and global human flourishing by presenting a diverse and proactive collection of the greatest thinkers and doers who have devoted their lives to creating a better world in which to live. She is an expert in creating happiness, finding pathways to happiness, and building a happiness formula in her happiness workshops. If you are looking for how to become a happier person, tune in weekly at www.toginet.com Wednesday’s at 12:00 pm to 1:00 pm EST.
Harvesting Happiness for Heroes is a pending 501(c)(3), non-profit corporation. Our mission objective is to offer support services to Warriors and Warrior families challenged by Combat Trauma, PTSD and post-deployment reintegration issues. We offer Battle Buddy workshops, family awareness training, online community support, one-on-one coaching services, as well as retreats for Warriors to decompress from battle and understand the tools available for them to adapt their military skills to civilian society.
Harvesting Happiness & Harvesting Happiness for Heroes provides positive psychology coaching tools to facilitate greater well-being. This communication is provided for education and inspiration. This communication does not constitute mental health treatment nor is it indicative of a private therapeutic relationship. Individuals desiring help for trauma, addiction and abuse related issues or other psychological concerns should seek out a mental health professional.
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