Preparing your children
The return of a parent is sure to be an exciting time for your children, but it can also be a confusing and even stressful time full of adjustment and anticipation. With a little help from you, the home front parent, your children can spend less time worrying and more time enjoying the excitement of the homecoming.
Help your children through this exciting change by following these tips:
- Talk and listen. Make yourself available to answer questions, and explain what is happening as best you can in words your children can understand. Give your children as much time as possible to accept the upcoming reunion.
- Encourage your children to share feelings. Be patient, treat your children's feelings with respect, and be careful not to rely on your children for emotional support. For children hesitant to talk, help them express feeling through play or drawing.
- Remind your children to be patient. Although family members, rules and routines may have changed while the deployed parent was away, remind your children that everything will eventually return to "normal".
- Help your children reconnect with the returning parent. Ask your children to share pictures, artwork and homework from the deployment period or have fun with the returning parent by doing something they love.
- Watch for signs of stress. Your children may show stress through excessive worry, nightmares, lack of interest, changes in behavior, changes in eating and sleeping habits or physical pain. Be aware, so you can offer additional support or seek professional help if necessary.
Whether this is your first or fifth reunion, it is important to take some time out for you and give yourself time to adjust to the homecoming. You may have changed in one way or another during the deployment, and chances are your spouse has as well. Take care of yourself during this period of adjustment with these tips:
- Accept mixed emotions. Excitement and worry are natural emotions during this time. Don't stress if you feel something other than excitement.
- Have realistic expectations about the reunion. Try not to get your hopes up about a perfect reunion, and be prepared to be flexible.
- Accept that all family members have changed during the deployment. Things have changed, so don't stress over trying to make things exactly the way they were pre-deployment. If the deployed parent is returning with a life-altering injury, role and routine changes from the deployment may become permanent and your family may need to make further adjustments and prepare emotionally.
- Remember change is a normal part of life. Look for opportunities to celebrate new ways of interacting or re-establishing routines. Encourage your children, your spouse and yourself to acknowledge the successes no matter how small.
- Share your feelings with friends or relatives.
- Understand that you may be more independent. It will take time for you and your returning spouse to adjust to your new level of independence.
The deployment that is drawing to a close has, no doubt, changed everyone in your family a little. Allow your children and yourself plenty of time to adjust and realize that everyone accepts and adjusts at their own pace. Be patient with yourself and your family and try not to stress about changes and mixed feelings. Instead, focus on the joy of the reunion.