Parenting military kids during deployment presents a unique set of challenges. Readers often message me via my Facebook page or email asking for help and a list of deployment parenting strategies for military kids. To be honest, I’m far from expert myself as our son is just old enough to really sense the impact of daddy being gone.
Even though, I don’t have years of experience parenting military kids during deployment, I do know many military spouses with tons of tips, tricks and ideas to make things easier. I compiled a list of creative parenting strategies for military kids to help you in your parenting journey.
Parenting military kids during deployment:
I don’t know any spouse who says this is the easy part of military life, but when we put our heads together and support each other, it can make the situation all the more manageable.
*For the purpose of this post, I am using the term “dad” as the deployed service member.*
Take care of you | In order to help your kids the most during deployment, you first have to help yourself. Take care of yourself and manage your own feelings about the separation. Talk to a friend or confidant to help you gain emotional balance. This will put you in a more positive position to support your kids during a challenging time.
Daddy kisses countdown jar | The jar contains Hershey Kisses to equal the number of days remaining in the deployment. Each day your child gets a kiss from dad, and when none remain dad comes home. This is useful since most younger kids cannot understand the concept of weeks and months. If the homecoming date gets pushed back, simply add in a few more kisses.
Daddy command center | Create a special space in your home that is designated for all things dad. Fill it with pictures, recorded books, memories of dad and beyond. This offers an tangible place kids can seek out dad even when he isn’t home.
Make daddy dollars | Create fake money with dad’s photo in middle that child can earn when daddy hears about something positive the child did. This is a creative way to offer kids an incentive for staying positive.
Use timeless reassurance | Offer reassuring phrases that are not based on dad returning home on a specific date. For example, “No matter what, mom and dad love you. We’ll do everything we can to keep you safe.” Or, “We are a family no matter if we are together or apart.”
Leave something behind | Encourage dad to leave something behind for each child. This could be an unwashed shirt for each child that they get to sleep in each night.
Have a stay-connected plan | Allow kids to feel connected to dad by writing a letter or drawing dad a picture each day. You can also allow kids to take a picture for dad each day during the deployment. When the deployment is over, you can make a photo book using Shutterfly to gift to dad at homecoming.
Set goals | Help your child set goals to complete during the deployment. For example, by the time dad comes home I will be able to ___________. Fill in the blank. This could be reading a number of books, growing a certain amount of inches, finishing a number of projects and beyond.
Keep a routine going | Whatever your routine is before deployment, keep the same routine going during and after deployment. This offers kids safety and security during big life changes.
Prepare for emotional swings | Initially the deployment might go well. Several weeks into the separation, you may start to notice emotional swings and moody behavior.
Help your child label emotions | Kids often do not understand what or why they are feeling something inside. If your child is angry, anxious, frustrated, sad, etc., help them name the feeling. You can say, “You seem really angry right now about missing your dad.” Anything to help them label the what and why of emotions can help children cope.
Allow your child to draw their feelings | If your child is old enough, encourage him or her to draw a picture of what your family looks like right now and tell you what he feels about the situation. This is a positive way to discover hidden emotions.
Try talking about feelings during an activity | One way to get kids talking and share feelings is to use an activity as a buffer. This could be anything–a board game, walking on a trail, doing a craft, etc. Kids are often more likely to open up and share stories while doing something to keep their hands busy. By the way, this works really well for husbands as well.
Use repetition | You may feel like a broken record talking about feelings with your kids over and over again. This is one way children process stressful events–through repetition. So if you feel like your child is asking the same questions over and over, this is actually a healthy way to cope.
Keep the news off | Kids are highly sensitive to news media reports during deployment. Keep the news or any program off that may share information about war during the show.
Ask for help | If you are struggling with parenting during a deployment, you are not alone. Contact your primary doctor for a referral to seek help from a counselor or social worker in your community. Even a few short sessions with a counselor can provide you with effective tools to turn a challenging situation around.
Contact your FRG | There are many deployment groups that are just for children. Contact your FRG to see what is available via your military branch in the local area. Deployment support groups for military are often active in schools and the military’s parent support program. In support groups, kids can learn tools to manage feelings and connect with other children in the same situation.
Please know that each military kid is unique and responds differently to parenting strategies during a deployment. What works well for one family may be entirely different for another family. Hang in there and remember we are one military spouse community. Reach out to those in need and feel good about asking for help when you need it (not just when the house is burning down, wink wink).
Want more on military life?
- The One Thing You Miss Most During Deployment
- What a 2 Year Old Boy Will Teach You About Surviving Deployment
- Best Toys and Resources for Military Kids During Deployment
- How to Respond When Your Military Child Feels Anxious