Helping Children Make Sense of Deployment Time
“Mommy, when is daddy coming home?”
“After Christmas, sweetheart.”
“When is Christmas?”
“It’s in December.”
“When is December?”
Few things are as incomprehensible to young children as the concept of time. It can be hard enough for an adult to comprehend the thought of a long deployment, but talking to children about the concept can be more complex and sometimes extremely difficult to explain.
Communication Is Key
Experts suggest that explanations of time and deployments can be started from the beginning with children. Try to communicate the news of an upcoming deployment as soon as possible.
With young children, you may need to repeat the news several times, and remember to avoid passing your own sadness or fears to your children. Even infants are intuitive to stress.
An upbeat tone can provide your child the needed security and reassurance that the deployed parent will return home. If you are the deployed parent, discuss what you will be doing in your job, and relay the pride you feel in your duty, rather than focus on the length of time away.
Some questions may have unknown answers, such as the return date or destination. Experts suggest that questions be answered as honestly as possible according to the child’s age level. False hope often leads to fear and anger.
Although older children can usually understand an anticipated return date, younger children or children with special needs may need more concrete ways to measure time.Hands-On Help
Children need tangible ways to comprehend new concepts. They rely on what they can see, touch, and hear to make sense of their world, rather than abstract explanations. They can easily learn through demonstrations, interactive activities, and illustrations.
Here are a few projects you can do at home to help illustrate time.
- Fill a jar with chocolate kisses. Each candy represents a deployment day. Every evening the child receives a “kiss” from the deployed parent. This project can also be done with stickers or other objects.
- Set a clock to the deployed parent’s time in another country, and discuss what the parent will likely be doing throughout the day.
- Create a construction paper chain. Each loop represents a day or week of the deployment and is removed as homecoming time draws near. If the return date changes, make adjustments as needed in the child’s absence.
- Use a calendar labeled with specific events, such a birthdays and holidays. Hold a ceremonial “crossing off” for each day that goes by.
- Keep photos of various family events displayed to represent time periods that have passed.
- Make a diary or journal. Label each page with a date, and let the child write about his or her own daily events, even if it’s just scribble.
You’re Not Alone
- Give an estimated time of return. If you’re unsure, you can leave it general.
It’s hard enough being a parent, but parenting a military child in today’s world is even tougher. But help is available.
Enlist a team of supporters from your community, such as your child’s teacher, friends, neighbors, and the Fleet and Family Support Center (FFSC).