I have gone through several deployments with my own family and hundreds with other families as I have worked as teacher and guidance counsellor on base schools.
My top ten tips for providing comfort and developing resilency are:
1) Take/Display Pictures – Take pictures before, during and after the absence. The important part is also displaying the pictures so that they can be a constant visual reminder of happy times, successes and celebrations
2) Journal – Writing each day will allow your child(ren) to process their thoughts, worries, ideas, etc. in a very different way. You can make it something you do together or give them time each day to do on their own (with a book or blog)
3) Jelly Bean Jar – Mark the time passing by filling a jar with jelly beans or other candies that will equal the number of days that your family member will be absent (add a few extra in case of delays).
4) Read – Spend time together on a regular basis reading. Books like “Night Catch”, “Daddy, Will You Miss Me” and “Scaredy Squirrel” (for younger children), “Wounded”, “Shattered” or “Three Cups of Tea” (for older children)
5) Family Night - Make time each week to spend a night together as a family either watching a movie, playing a game, making a package to send, etc.
6) Wearing Something – One thing that can provide a tremendous amount of comfort is having something that your child can carry or wear that is special or associated with your absent family member (watch, belt, shirt, etc.)
7) Memory Box – Make a memory box during the entire absence. This gives your childr(ren) a sense of purpose and importance and can make the re-integration after the absence easier as items will trigger memories and you’ll be able to fill in the gaps and talk about what happened while they were away.
8) Being Organized – One of the biggest things that you can do to comfort your child is to be organized. This gives your child a sense of order and control in their lives when the absence can make them feel helpless and confused. Clean out closets, update your calendar, set your watch five minutes fast so that you will be on time for things and not feel rushed, etc.
9) Voice – Your absent family member’s voice can be incredibly comforting. Have your family member, prior to their absence, record good morning, congratuations, happy birthday, I miss you, you can do it, or good night messages that you can play. There are also story books that allow you to record for each page that you could purchase.
10) Clocks – Buy two clocks with your time and the time where your family member is so that you can talk openly about differences and think about what they may be doing. It is also comforting to set a specific time each day when you will agree to think of each other and “send” positive thoughts. We set a timer to beep each day so when we heard the beep we knew that at that exact time, on the other side of the world, our Dad/Husband was thinking of us.