Research shows that children with parents who have been deployed tend to worry more and have the potential to be afraid or sad. While one of their parents are overseas, a child may feel like the world is a less safe place.
When I Grow Up I Want To Be…In the U.S. Army! and in the U.S. Navy! both offer important educational facts that will make children more comfortable when either of their parents are deployed!
Below are a few facts based on age and development:
- Very young children may show fear or upset at being separated from their parent. Infants (12 months and younger) may react to changes in their schedule, physical environment, or the caretaker’s mood. They may be uninterested, refuse to eat, or even lose weight.
- Toddlers (1-3 years) may sulk, cry, throw temper tantrums, or not sleep well if their caretaker is having problems or is not available.
- Preschoolers (3-6 years) might think their parent was deployed because “I was bad.” They may react with toileting issues, thumb sucking, sleep problems, clinginess, and separation anxiety. They may also be touchy, depressed, aggressive, or complain about aches and pains.
- Very often, preschool and school-age children also worry about the safety of the parent at home.
- School age children (6-12 years) may perform more poorly in school. They may become moody, aggressive, or whiny. They may get stomachaches, headaches, etc.
- Teens may become angry and act out. They can also withdraw or act like they don’t care about things. Adolescents may also not like new family roles and responsibilities after the deployed parent returns home.
What can we do to help children who have parents that have been deployed? (thanks to www.military.com)
Protecting children from fear
We cannot protect our children from all that is bad. Yet we can learn to talk to our children about war. Use language that is easy to understand and does not hide the truth. Protect children from needless worries and concerns. Provide them with a sense of security and safety. Children should be assured that everything is being done to bring their loved one home safely and to protect families at home.
Listen and watch
All parents need to take the time to listen, observe, and talk to their children about what is happening around them. This can teach children good listening and communication skills, respect and support for differing opinions, and ways to manage fears and anxieties.
Is my child okay?
Make sure you are available for your kids. Be there to listen. Parents should pay attention to how their children are playing. If games end with emotions like sadness, aggression, or worry, help the child work out more positive solutions. Above all, kids need to be sure that adults will take care of them as well as they can.
These are some things to watch for:
- Bad temper, difficulties being soothed
- Tearfulness, sadness, talking about things that scare them
- Anger toward people, picking on minority groups
- Getting irritated and fighting with others
- Changes in sleep patterns, trouble sleeping
- More clinging behaviors at home, not wanting to go to school
- Physical complaints (stomachaches, etc.)
- Wanting attention
Talk to help children deal with war
Take the time to talk about war and deployment. Remember that talking can only make your family stronger. Don’t ignore the subject. Do not minimize your child’s concerns or stressors. Many parents would like to ignore the situation because thinking about war makes them feel vulnerable and powerless to protect their children.
Talk about feelings
Encourage your children to freely talk about their concerns and feelings. All children want to be included in family matters. They want to be listened to and understood. They have ideas and feelings but may not know how to express them, or how to handle them. “If war is bad, why is mommy going to war?” “If war is bad, why are we doing it?” “Is killing other people ok?”
Make your child feel as secure as possible
Make your child feel as secure as possible without changing the facts. For example, you might say to a very young child, “War is happening in another country, far away. But you are safe here and we will take care of you.” Or, “Your (dad, mom) will be serving with men and women who will do the best job possible to protect (him, her) and bring (him, her) home safely.”