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Grandparents, aunts and uncles, family friends and loved ones can make children of service members feel more secure and loved when their parent is deployed.
Come deployment time, here are things large and small you can do to be there for and nurture the bond you have with the military children in your life.
1. Grow your relationship with more communication
The most important thing for a child to know is that they have many people who care for them.
- Keep in touch with the child. Send them a postcard, call them on the phone, or text – whatever method is going to be most comfortable for them. Some find it special to receive mail, emails or short texts to know someone is thinking of them.
- Consider sending the child a care package, a craft or a subscription box geared to their age and interests.
- If you live nearby, try to attend their special events, like performances, sports games and school activities.
- If you live far away, ask their primary caregiver if there would be a good time to visit, and see if you can make that happen. Don’t rely on the other parent or solo caregiver to make the plans; you can do that to relieve the burden on them.
- Invite the child to visit you, either with or without their caregiver. (Talk to the grown-up first to see if this can happen, so it doesn’t end in disappointment.)
- Read books to them over video chat or use apps to play games together on your phones.
2. Support the child’s primary caregiver
Solo parenting can be lonely and hard on the primary caregiver, whether it’s mom, dad, a grandparent or someone else. No matter how you’re related, or where you’re each located, there are ways you can make their life a little easier, which gives them more time and energy for both themselves and their child.
- When you’re going to the grocery store, call and ask them what they need. If they are far away, consider ordering groceries to be delivered to their home.
- Offer specific assistance, such as “I’m free to watch the kids on Tuesdays,” or “I know your child’s birthday is coming up, let me take care of the cake.” That’s more helpful than generic “let me know how I can help.”
- If they call you to talk, be willing to listen to their frustrations without judgment.
- Help with household tasks that are hard to do when you’re alone with kids, like mowing the lawn or cleaning the gutters. If they are comfortable with it, consider offering to pay for a service such as lawn or house maintenance service.
- If there are multiple kids, offer to babysit a few so they can have one-on-one time with an individual child or just some downtime for themselves.
- If there are multiple kids in activities, ask if there are any scheduling conflicts where you can help with transportation or child care.
- Ask if there is a particularly tough time of day, and if it would be helpful for you to call or keep the child engaged at that time. For example, you can read a book over FaceTime while mom or dad cleans up after dinner, takes out the trash or showers.
- Keep an eye out for signs of stress but don’t push; each family manages deployment in their own ways. Remind the caregiver of the resources available to them, including Military OneSource consultants, private organizations and their installation Military and Family Support Program.
- Suggest programs that can provide opportunities for family or individual activities, online learning and respite relief like Morale, Welfare and Recreation Digital Libraries, youth programs and alternative child care options.
3. Nurture the child’s relationship with the service member
Throughout deployment, encourage a gentle focus on the child and their parent. Here are some suggestions you can choose from based on age appropriateness.
- Tell stories or share pictures of their deployed parent when they were younger.
- Talk about where their parent is right now, and what their life might look like. Do they sleep in a tent or on a ship? Where and what do they eat?
- Keep communication open by letting tweens and teens bring up topics that interest them. Suggest Military Kids Connect as an online resource that discusses military life, deployment and much more.
- Take a trip with them to where their parent grew up or one of their parent’s favorite places.
- Ask them how their responsibilities have changed since their parent’s deployment.
- Assemble a care package together or help them write a letter to their parent.
- Check out some ways to help a teen deal with deployment.
- When their parent comes home, give the family some time alone before you plan a visit.
4. Be a positive force
Make an effort to keep your conversations with the child positive. It can be hard, because you’re missing your service member too.
- Emphasize the parts of the experience that are normal while still empathizing with their feelings. It can be a hard balance, and you might not always get it right, and that’s okay. On the flip side, acknowledge their frustrations, fears and sadness.
- Talk about the positive things that the service member is doing while they are gone.
- Avoid talking about your opinions on the reasons the service member is deployed. It’s important to be supportive.
Share this article with the others who may have a positive impact on a military child’s life.