Many jobs in the military can be dangerous at times, especially during periods of deployment. You may be wondering how to explain your partner's or your own dangerous job to your children without causing unnecessary worry or stress. Depending on the personalities and ages of your children, there are things that you can do to reassure them about their safety, your significant other's safety or your safety.
Does my child understand?
Young children may not understand fully the type of danger that their mom or dad face at work. It may be your first instinct to shelter them from the news and conversations about dangerous work, but this might not be the best option. If your children aren't already, they may soon begin asking questions and, as a parent, you will need to know the best way to answer these questions. Refusing to answer your children's questions may lead them to believe things that are worse than the truth, which can cause a stressful misunderstanding for your child.
Begin by asking your children what they think goes on at your partner's or your dangerous job. Based on their answers, you can help them better understand what is true and what is not. Answer their questions in terms they can understand, and watch for their reactions before deciding what to say next.
Images from a news broadcast, newspaper page, magazine article or the Internet could potentially startle your children and cause them to fear for the safety of the family. Get to the root of your children's fears by asking them what it is they are afraid of and why. It will help you know where their fears began, like a news source, a conversation they overheard or from a classmate at school.
Your children may display fear in different ways, like separation anxiety or nightmares. If they are having trouble being away from you or their other parent, especially during periods of deployment, keep pictures around and talk about the absent parent as much as possible. If you are also worried about your deployed loved one, your child may sense it, so be honest about your feelings. To help comfort your children, though, explain how you are coping and share what makes you feel better. Tell them you or your loved one is trained for deployment or that other brave families are in the same situation. Avoid making promises about exact homecoming dates, since dates can always change.
Accept your children's fears by acknowledging that it's all right to be afraid, and help them distinguish what is real and what isn't. Remind your children that you're always available to listen. Understand that you may have to initiate a conversation about dangerous work in a situation that your children are comfortable with, like while playing with toys or drawing. Creative outlets, like drawing, may also be a way to let your children express feelings and fears when they can't express them otherwise.
Addressing deployment-specific fears
Comforting scared children during a deployment is a delicate process, since the deployed parent isn't around to comfort the child face-to-face. Before a deployment, discuss with your significant other how you will both handle certain questions so you are both prepared should they arise. Anytime you answer your children's questions during deployment, you can help them with the following:
- Feel safe and cared for at home and at school while a parent is deployed.
- Understand that the deployed parent is doing a very important job, and the training will help keep him or her safe.
- Feel as close to normal as possible in daily routines, conversations and activities.
- Know that the home front parent or caregiver is a calm and reliable source of answers and support.
- Know that other adults, like teachers, relatives and friends can help them feel safe too.
- Have access to professional help if necessary.
Remember that knowledge can be comforting, even for young children. You don't need to share every detail about a dangerous job or situation, but answer their questions as sincerely and truthfully as you can without increasing fear or confusion.