contributed by Melissa Lucas, senior staff writer
Although deployment is a common experience in military life, the fact remains that it involves a unique set of challenges. The changes that come about can often be disruptive and confusing, especially for children of deployed military service men and women.
A key to helping children of deployed parents navigate the inevitable range of emotions they will experience is to ensure they maintain a feeling of connection to the deployed parent. To that end, here are 11 creative ways to support children dealing with deployment.
Here are a few ideas and gifts for kids with deploying parents. These require a little bit of planning prior to heading out but are well worth it!
Video Everything. As soon as you learn of deployment, begin taking videos of everyday moments. This could be anything from the kids waking you up in the morning, to the daily dog walk, to saying goodbye in the school drop-off line. Amass a collection and let the kids watch often while their parent is deployed.
Record Book Readings. Record the deploying parent reading children’s books. These could be some of the kids’ favorites, specific deployment books for kids, or just military children’s books in general. Alternately, try the PeeWee app which lets the adult record themselves reading a digital book (as well as a special video message), which can be opened up on the app at any time. Regardless of which route you want to go, after deployment, break out the videos (or app) before bed for a special story time with mom or dad.
Dance it Out. Ask the deploying parent to put together a special playlist of their favorite dancin’ tunes. When the kids have a rough day, or really miss their parent, turn on the playlist, turn up the volume, and have a ridiculous dance party.
Write Milestone Notes. If the kids are old enough to appreciate this, have the deploying parent write out notes or record videos to present during important milestones they may miss. Birthdays and holidays are the obvious ones, but think about other milestones as well. Potty training success, losing a first tooth, attending prom, getting a driver’s license, learning how to swim. Regardless of the event, special notes at unexpected times will be sure to warm their hearts.
Below you’ll find a few creative ideas of activities to enjoy while a parent is deployed.
Make a “Tell” list. Keep a running list of everything your child wants to tell their deployed parent. Break out the list during phone calls or video chats. If those aren’t an option, add the list to a weekly letter. Bonus points for designating a special place to write this list. Perhaps a favorite notebook, a chalkboard wall, or a bulletin board? This will make the list, in addition to the information it contains, something special.
Play a Memory Game. This one is so simple it’s almost silly. Young children dealing with deployment can have sparce memories of the parent who is deployed. To keep memories fresh in their minds, find ways to make a game out sharing things they love or miss about their deployed parent. With each bite they eat, goal they score, or toy they put away, they name something they love about their parent. First one to finish dinner, score ten goals, or pick up all their toys “wins.”
Maintain a Calendar. Maintain an electronic calendar that the deployed parent can access. Put everything on it, and let the kids help. Report card days, a school play, soccer games, dentist appointments – include it all. This lets the children of deployed military parents know that mom or dad is still keeping up with them even though they can’t be there in person.
Host a Halfway Party. Throw a major celebration when deployment is halfway over. Start planning it from day one to give children something big to look forward to. As the party date approaches, provide lots of opportunities for them to help prepare. Once the party is over it will be time to start planning your next celebration – homecoming!
Send a Themed Care Package. There are so many ways to get creative with care packages and coming up with a theme is just one of them. The theme could be anything from a holiday, to a color, to a sport. Let the kids choose the theme and spend a few weeks picking out special items related to the theme. Be sure to check out our care package tips to make sure your themed package arrives safely and on time.
Craft a Homecoming Present. Among the classic deployment activities for children is creating a homecoming gift for their deployed parent. This is a favorite because it gives military kids something to focus on while keeping their parent at the forefront of their mind. The options here are endless. Create a new photo album each month. Bind artwork into a makeshift book. Turn a small wall into a growth chart. Whatever it is, make a production out of it so that the kids get excited about putting something together to share with their parent when they return.
Make a Deployment Bucket List. This is intended to give military kids fun activities to anticipate while their parent is deployed. Craft the list before deployment and ensure that the deploying parent really hypes it up. Then, check things off of the list as you accomplish them, and be sure the kids tell their deployed parent all about it. (Tip: take advantage of military discounts to keep the cost of the bucket list adventures manageable.)
Use a Visual Countdown to Homecoming. The countdown could be electronic. It could be similar to an advent calendar. It could be simply moving a marble from one jar to another. Regardless of what the countdown looks like, make sure children of deployed military personnel celebrate each day that brings them closer to reuniting with mom or dad.
There’s no way around it. Deployment is hard on kids. But there are plenty of ways to help ease the sadness and discomfort that many little (and not-so-little) ones feel when their parent is gone.
While this list of ideas for children of deployed military service members is a good start, it’s by no means exhaustive. There are thousands of deployment ideas for kids that foster a sense of connection when a parent and child can’t be together, physically. What are your suggestions for how to help a child cope with deployment? Share your ideas in the comments below!