Inside: Discover programs, products and free resources to help military kids get through a parent’s military deployment. These are the best deployment resources for military kids.
No matter their age, military kids may struggle during deployment. Some act sad and lonely when they miss their deployed parent. Other times, military children misbehave or act out because they can’t adjust to the massive stress and changes that deployment brings.
Thankfully, military kids don’t have to go through deployment alone! These products, programs, services, and gifts are all designed to support military children during deployment. Some products must be purchased. Others are completely free to military families. Check out our extensive list of deployment resources for military kids. See which ones will be most helpful to your child during a military deployment.
Something to hold.
Operation Kid Comfort Quilts: This Armed services YMCA program provides military children with a free, personalized quilt during their first deployment. Families submit photographs of the child with their service member parent. The photos transfer onto fabric and sew into beautiful keepsake quilts. Some military spouses keep them hanging by a baby’s bed to keep Daddy’s face in sight. Kids like to snuggle in them and feel like they are getting a hug from their deployed parent.
Battalion Buddies: These camo-wearing teddy bears from Operation Gratitude are available for free to military kids, to give them something to hug during deployment. You can order the bears as a group shipment by the unit’s rear detachment or family readiness officer.
Bearegards stuffed animals are customizable plush toys that can be designed to match any military branch. Each animal comes with a recordable voice chip, so the deploying parent can record a short message to their child. These comfort items were designed by an Air Force officer specifically to help military children during long separations.
Cuddletunes Bears: These stuffed animals come with a built-in sound chip that connects to an app on your phone. A service member can record messages and songs before they deploy… or use the app to change and update messages during deployment! Military kids will feel closer to their deployed parent when they hear their voice.
Sgt. Sleeptight is a stuffed animal that protects kids and helps them sleep better during deployments and military training missions. The bears can be customized to wear uniforms from different branches. Each bear comes with an oath and a door tag to help children feel more secure.
Picture Pillows from Pillow Project USA gives military children a free pillow with their service member’s picture printed on it. They are available to active duty families whose service member deploys at least three months. This is a comforting way to keep a deployed parent present at bedtime.
Daddy dolls: This customizable doll features the full-length image of their service member on a plush toy. You can include a printed message on the doll too. These are great for very young children to be able to carry around their deployed parent and take them to every-day activities. Prices are based on size and customization. You can also make your own daddy doll using this tutorial.
Little Patriots Embraced wants to send a care package to all military kids going through a deployment. The free gift contains a teddy bear, quilt, and journal to help comfort them. You can sign your family up for the care package by completing a form on their website.
Troop on the Stoop: This gift box contains a book and plush toy of a soldier that will help comfort a military child during deployment. Developed by a veteran who wanted to help military kids adjust, this is a great ‘battle buddy’ for any military child.
Dog Tags for Kids: This organization allows service members to customize dog tags and have them sent to their children during deployment… for free. It’s a small, simple gift the service member can send in a letter, but it means the world to kids to receive something personal from their deployed parent!
Something to read.
United Through Reading: This free program from the USO allows service members to make a video of them reading a book to their child. The USO then mails the video with the book to their family, so you can enjoy it any time throughout the deployment. With USO locations throughout the world, including overseas combat areas and Navy ships, service members can use this program either before or during a deployment.
Caribu app: This reading app combines on-screen books with the power of real-time video, to connect children with adults who are far away. This can be useful for a deployed service member with internet access, and it can also help military kids connect with distant grandparents. Although the app is not designed specifically for military families, they do offer a military discount.
Recordable books: Many books from Hallmark stores or other large retailers include a recordable voice chip. A service member can record themselves reading before the deployment begins. Then the child can enjoy hearing their parent’s voice whenever they turn the pages.
Military-themed books: Some of the best children’s books to read during deployment are written by military spouses or active duty parents. There are currently more than 75 children’s books on the topic of deployment and military service. Many are sold on Amazon or available at base libraries. You can see this list of books for military kids that discuss deployment, separation, an active duty Mom, or a wounded service member parent.
Something to see or do.
Sesame Street workshops: Military One Source has partnered with Sesame Street to provide free online activities and DVD’s to help young military kids talk about deployment. The program is called Sesame Street’s Talk, Listen, and Connect.
Visual countdown tool: Children don’t have a good grasp of time, so telling them that deployment will last for six more months, or that Dad won’t be home until after their birthday doesn’t really register to them. It helps them to see time progressing. You can do this in simple ways like a jar full of marbles to represent the days of the deployment. Or a “kiss a day” (Hershey kiss) while their parent is gone. You can also make a visual calendar on the wall, marking holidays and milestones, so they can see how much longer they have to wait until Homecoming. There is a simple downloadable countdown kit from the Seasoned Spouse.
Free coloring and activity pages from Brat Town Bugle can help kids cope with deployment and open up to discussing their feelings, especially during deployment holidays. Download them and print them out for free from this fun military kid newsletter.
Homecoming Box: This is an ongoing deployment project for the military child and their deployed parent. Each one collects memories, photos, drawings, etc to share with each other after deployment. It’s a good way for a child to feel connected to their missing parent, and the guide book has suggestions for discussing deployment emotions.
Operation Teammate: Military children are invited to become an honorary team member for a day of a college or professional sports team, at locations around the country. Children of all military branches, as well as first responders, may participate. Teammates go behind the scenes, meet the athletes, and get to spend time connecting with them.
Respite Childcare: Some YMCA locations offer occasional free childcare to military families during deployment. Whether it is one night per month or several hours each week, this program allows children to participate in fun activities while their parent or caregiver gets a much-needed break. You must complete an eligibility form through Military One Source before participating.
Kids Bowl Free is available on many military bases, whether or not families are experiencing a deployment. During the summer, the program grants military kids two free bowling games every day! You must use the vouchers at participating locations, so check if your base bowling alley participates. There is a similar program, Kids Skate Free, for bases with a roller skating rink nearby.
National Guard and Reservist families can receive grants for children’s activities through Our Military Kids. The program recognizes that these families often live far from base resources, and may need additional help participating in local sports, dance, or art classes. Grants allow them to participate in activities that will help relieve stress during a deployment.
The USO offers a wide range of resources to military families. During deployment, military kids may enjoy the local USO library, story time, and holiday events.
Programs on base.
Moms Day Out: This program is sponsored by Operation Help a Hero (OHH) or similar volunteer organizations near major military bases. They volunteer to run a day camp on base that is open to children who have a deployed parent. Teams of adults bring supplies like bounce houses, food, and outdoor toys to make it a fun day for kids. While the kids enjoy camp, their parent goes out and does something that relaxes or rejuvenates them. For some spouses, this is their only kid-free day during a long deployment!
Operation Hero: This ASYMCA after-school program is for military children in grades 2-8. Not only does it give them free tutoring and help with homework, but it also provides a discussion group so that kids can interact with others their age going through a deployment. The program is available at some military base schools at large bases around the country.
FOCUS program: Your base Family center may offer free classes to help kids during deployment. FOCUS stands for Families OverComing Under Stress. It is a 10-week program to help military families communicate their feelings more effectively to handle stressful situations in military life. It is especially useful for young children during deployment to help them express all they are going through.
An MFLC (Military Family Life Counselor) is a professional social worker or psychologist attached to deployed military units on most major bases. An MFLC provides free, confidential counseling to military family members. It can be a great resource for parents who feel overwhelmed, or for young children who are acting out during deployment.
Camp and Classes.
Armed Services YMCA: The ASYMCA offers several camps and classes to assist military kids during deployment. At some locations near military bases, they provide outdoor summer camps like Operation Outdoors and Camp Hero to provide learning opportunities and fun activities to military kids.
Camp Yellow Ribbon in East Troy, WI, is a summer camp specifically for kids whose parent is currently deployed or recently returned from deployment. With a week of outdoor fun and traditional camp activities, the program helps military kids cope with deployment and celebrate military life. This free program is open to families from all branches.
Operation Purple Camps: Sponsored by the National Military Family Association at locations around the country, these camps are open to military kids with a deployed parent. It’s a free week of summer camp, open to children from all branches and ranks, to help them deal with the stresses of deployment.
Horses for Heroes runs Operation Free Ride to provide free weekly riding lessons to families with a deployed service member. This is one of their many programs to make horseback riding more available to military families. It’s especially those who deploy or suffer from a service-related injury.
Operation We Are Here lists numerous activities, programs, and camps available to military children. Many are only in one location, but some programs are nation-wide. Check their extensive listings to find military programs near you.
Want more on military kids?
- Best Army Toys for Kids to Use During a Deployment
- How to Prepare Your Child’s School for Deployment
- Military Kids and Homecoming: How to Ease the Transition
- Best Tips for Parenting Military Kids During Deployment