What can you do to comfort a child who is missing a parent who is away?
Saying goodbye to my husband for months at a time is something that never gets easier for me. For my kids, it is at least equally as difficult. They have a fantastic father who is involved in their lives, loves to spend time with them, and is a true role model for the kind of men I hope they grow up to be. When he is gone, it takes a definite toll on their emotions.
One of the ways I like to help them cope with the separation is through children's literature. A former Reading Teacher, I have always enjoyed a good book and have seen the power of books in children's lives. Military kids are no different and we have employed a variety of books to make us laugh, help us cry when we need to, and open discussions about this deployment.
With each book, I try to find a tangible reminder of the lesson learned there ... a simple craft, a letter to our Soldier, or a small gift. I have been amazed at how my kids cherish these small tokens and hold on to them as reminders of how much their dad loves them.
No matter what you say, what you tell them, what you want them to feel, your child will learn the most about dealing with separation by WATCHING you. I think it is so important to teach a child that it is OKAY to be sad when their other parent is away (usually deployed in our case) but to also show them how much they are loved and missed as well. The nights when my oldest (then two) had the hardest times when my husband was deployed I handed him his Daddy Doll and talked to him about him. I would ask if he missed him, if he was sad. I let him know that I was sad too but that Daddy loved us both so very much and missed us just as much as we missed him. We would listen to the book that C recorded before he left together. I think it is so important to stay WITH them, to let them know you share that emotion.
When they are so small it is so very hard for them to understand what they are feeling - anger, sadness, confusion. They don't know how to verbalize it. Just asking my little one about certain feelings in the way his two year old mind understood such things calmed him down tremendously - when he could say it and understand it.
Our children watch us - especially when our better half is away. They learn how to cope by watching how we cope. It is okay to let them see us sad - but to ONLY see us sad will teach them that we can't move forward, that we do not live in the every day. We have to teach our children to find JOY while our service member is not with us. Life does not stop - their childhood will not be paused. We must let them share their feelings, must help them to cope with the sadness and we must, we MUST show them how to find the joy as well.
I don't know what words to share but I do know what mind-set to have. Keep busy. Distractions kept me sane during hub's deployment in Iraq. My boys had swim lessons, soccer camp; we had time with family and friends during deployment. All things that kept my mind from focusing on the one person I was missing the most, my soldier! We were busy, we were distracted, life was only as good as we made it. Recognize your own children's anxieties. How can you distract them? A trip to the zoo; a knock on the neighbor's door to meet new friends?; perhaps, a family movie night at home or the theatre? It's not good to wax-coat real problems. But distractions can most certainly help us get past our anxieties, and keep our minds focused on the positives in life!
Talk to them openly about the parent, include both the parent and the child as much as you can in the lives of one another. There are so many programs out there now, for example the USO has United Through Reading where they record a parent who is deployed reading, and the book gets sent to the child so that they can read together. I am also a huge advocate for pictures, tons and tons of pictures for both the parent and the child. It is important for each of them to continue to feel like they know what is going on in one another's lives.
As a military spouse, I am an expert at comforting my kids and myself when my husband is away. When my husband was in East Africa for over one year, we made periodic Skype calls, wrote e-mails, and hung a life-sized picture of my husband near our kitchen table. Before he left, my husband recorded himself reading several books to each of our three kids, and them gave them each the recordings and the books as gifts before he left. It was not easy by any means, but we made it through the year, and in the end, appreciated each other more!
Call them up , if that facility is avl, I do the same
Having daddy gone on 60 day patrols is rough on our three year old little girl. I help her by making sure that we talk about emotions and that she has the words to describe how she is feeling. This is important, as everyone gets stretched thin during a patrol! She can tell me "Mommy, I'm in a bad mood. I'm sad - I want my dada to come home!" - and then we can talk about it. We have a very religious routine of story times, playmates, and activities that she loves to keep her busy. Transitioning in and out of having daddy home is hard, especially for the emotions of an ever developing preschooler. But I am able to help her handle her emotions surrounding daddy's deployment by making sure that she has the words and the trust in me to share them.
Helping your kids stay connected with a deployed/traveling parent is very important, but it is equally critical to not dwell on the issue.
If your son or daughter is missing Daddy or Mommy, validate his or her worries and help him to connect by looking at a picture, sending an email or sharing stories.
One great way we stay connected is with our Daddy Dolls (https://www.daddydolls.com/store/hugahero-dolls). I ordered one for each of my sons right after my husband deployed, last December. They sit at the foot of the beds of my 11 and 13 year olds, but my 4 and 7 year olds hug their daddy every night while they sleep. It's a small way that the boys stay connected.
We also have a life size flat daddy that we take with us when one of the boys has a special event that Daddy would have attended, had he been home. We take pictures and send them to Daddy by email. Also, it always prompts positive, supportive comments from onlookers who thank the boys for their Dad's service and their sacrifice, which is really nice.
Finally, we fill a large bowl with Hershey's Kisses. Each evening, the boys each get a "kiss" from Daddy. As his return nears, I make sure the number of kisses is right so that the last ones are taken the day before he comes home. It's a visible reminder for the kids that homecoming is approaching.
It's not easy to have a parent away from home for long stretches, but if the at home parent works at it, the absence can be managed with grace.
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Trying to get a young child to understand why their daddy isn't at home is a tough job; one that I never wish on anyone. When my husband was gone last year (for 9 months), it was a daily battle to help our two year old son understand that Daddy was just doing his job and would be back with us soon. Naturally, some days were better than others.
For the most part, I think that being able to Video Chat and Skype with his daddy helped our son out the most. While it wasn't always convenient, it was a huge asset to be able to let them interact on the computer. Our son is big into Hot Wheels Cars and Toy Soldiers, so I always put a few little toys in the husband's care packages that we sent so that they could "play" on the computer when they got a chance. We also had a countdown jar filed with Hershey Kisses. Each day, right before bedtime, our son was allowed to have one more Hershey Kiss and we talked about daddy coming home.
The most important thing, as someone mentioned already, is to keep busy. Occupy yourself and your child with hobbies and trips to the park. If you are okay, your child(ren) will be okay.
My daughter is still small, so the next time her dad is gone for training or a deployment, I plan on relying on the computer and phone a lot. But she'll also have a Daddy doll or Trooppaws dog with a photo of her dad that she can snuggle with. I think tangible things help like that for littler ones who can't grasp everything that's going on.
In military life, this is a common dilemma for us. Recently my husband was gone for an extended period of time, and my son missed him very much.
It's important to listen to your children when they are feeling down. Let them express to you how they are feeling, and give them your full attention when they are speaking to you. Talk about the situation to your child and remind them of why it is important that the missing parent is away. For us, I usually reinforce why it is important for my husband to be away for his training, or deployment and that as a Marine he not only protect us as a family, but the families all over the country and the world.
I also like to find a little soother, or what I sometimes call a heart band-aid. For us, it's a big cup of hot cocoa. After a round of tears, hugs, and cuddles I find a cup of hot cocoa usually helps to heal the heart and soul for the moment, and brings a smile back to my sons face.
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.
Saying goodbye to Daddy for my kids is extremely hard, especially because he is involved in so many of their activities and spends a great deal of time with them.
One of the activities we have always done is set up Skype dates. This was a set time (if the internet was acting right over there) that the kids could get on, show him projects they created in school, sing, dance and just act silly. We also made great use of the webcam for the holidays so that daddy could watch them Christmas morning.
Also encourage your child to write their parent letters or draw pictures that can be sent via snail mail. This will make them feel special and also encourage creativity.
Our family has gone through two Naval deployments so far. Our children are still young, (3 and under), so I knew when my husband left that it would be nearly impossible to reason with them, or explain his long absence in a way they could understand. Instead, I decided to focus on making Daddy a constant presence in their lives through photos, video, and audio.
We used three tools with our kids: a Daddy video, a Daddy audio tape, and a Daddy book. Every morning while the kids ate their breakfast, they would watch their Daddy video on my computer, which was simply a video I had put together in iMovie using a bunch of my husband's photographs. After a few weeks of this, our sons actually began asking to watch the Daddy video as soon as they woke up in the morning! At lunchtime, I had them listen to an audio tape my husband had recorded before he left, on which he read five of their favorite books. And several times throughout each day I would read to them their Daddy book, which was a book I made using construction paper, and photos of my husband - pictures of his face, as well as pictures of him with our sons. It was a very simple book, with phrases like, "My daddy is brave", and "Daddy loves me!", etc.
Every day I told them that Daddy was at work on a ship, and that he would be home soon. When he finally did return home, our children recognized him, without a doubt. Even though they may not have been able to understand his absence, Daddy was a daily presence in their lives, and they did not forget about him.
As the parent of a toddler who lost his father at a young age, I've spent much of my time as a parent dealing with this very question. Because he was only 8 months old when his father passed, he doesn't have much memory of his Daddy so our situation isn't quite the same as those whose children were older when they lost their parent, or children whose parent is away. But we face the pain of that absence in much the same way. He is almost 3 years old now and the absence of his father is really beginning to affect him.
The most important thing I have done to comfort our son is to make his father present in his life. We talk about Daddy all the time. I make comments about him throughout our daily routine, like showing our son Daddy's favorite candy when he is picking some out at the store or telling him that was Daddy's favorite color crayon too. We look at pictures, especially ones of the two of them together, and I tell him stories. I am fortunate to have videos of my husband reading storybooks (I asked him to do that before he left on deployment), so we watch those together some evenings and it really helps him to see Daddy and hear his voice. I had a "Daddy doll" pillow made before his father left on deployment, and our son has slept with it every night since, so we say our prayers at night with him there with us and kiss him goodnight before bed. I've also started certain traditions with him, such as letting balloons with messages go "up to Daddy" on special occasions and when we are outside we always look for our "Daddy cloud" and wave hello.
A lot of these same things can be applied to a child who is missing a parent who is away for work or on deployment, just tailor them to fit your specific situation. For us, the most important thing has simply been to keep him present. If you find ways to work his spirit into your daily life, he will always be there with your child. ♥
With kids it is hard, sometimes they don't like to open up, or they cry and it's hard to understand their feelings because they don't know how to express themselves well. So being patient is the key, and don't get frustrated yourself.
Personally what I do is I talk to my kids usually about their dad, and we make pictures of daddy. We also write letters and I ask them to write down their feelings or draw how they are feeling. Then we usually follow it up with a scoop of ice cream. Then I tell them that, this is his job and we will be together one day soon and let's look forward to that day.