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Activities to Help Kids Through Deployment

Getting through a deployment with little ones is tough, especially when they are aware enough of their surroundings to understand that mom or dad is going to be gone for a really long time. While there are countless resources provided by the military—books, guides, etc.—sometimes adding a personalized touch is a bit more valuable. Pick and choose which works best for your family, and try to find ways to involve the deployed parent in day-to-day activities, even when communication is infrequent.

Communicate

It is incredibly important to give children a sense of security and safety. Before deployment focus on communicating what mom/dad will be doing and what that means for the little ones. Be sure to clarify that they will still be going to school and expected to do their chores, and other routine activities. If you are planning to go on a trip to visit family or stay for an extended time away from home, be sure and explain how you will still be able to video chat, send letters and communicate with the deployed parent. There are many videos and worksheets on how to explain an upcoming deployment. Sesame Street has developed videos for children two to five to help with the phases and issues of deployment. Depending on your spouse’s role and the type of deployment they experience, communication with home can be unreliable. Talk to each other about how you plan to manage the children, communicating and your own relationship.

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Make a video or CD

Record your spouse telling the kids' favorite stories and talking to them about life. This is a great way to help young kids continue to recognize their parent's voice and face. Most computers have audio recording software and you can easily record a video with some types of webcams. If your spouse is a musician, consider creating a lullaby CD that him singing favorite songs. If you are religious, add a recording of a prayer or other faith-based advice.

Make a paper chain

While many deployments don't have hard timelines, consider creating a paper chain (add a few extra days at the start so you don't have to add them later) and remove a piece of paper each day. Build the chain as a family before your spouse deploys and use it as time to talk about the deployment and answer any questions your kids have about what their parent will be doing and how life is going to change (and stay the same) until they come home.

Like you would at the family dinner table or before bed, have the kids talk about their day and say goodnight.

Create a deployment wall

Pull together family photos, a world map, a wall clock and a big calendar on a spot of wall the kids can easily see. Talk about the area of the world your spouse has deployed to—even study some of the culture. Use a wall clock to show your time and your spouse's time. Talk about what you think might be happening at different times of the day (what do you think mom/dad is having for breakfast?). Personalize a wall calendar with photos of your spouse with the kids and use it as a countdown. Talk about the seasons and what is happening throughout the year, crossing off days as they pass.

Celebrate big moments off-calendar

Dad won't be home for Father's Day? Surprise him and the kids by celebrating another day. While big holidays can be hard to recreate (there aren't many Christmas trees in May), don't hesitate to celebrate holidays, birthdays and major moments as a family ahead of time (or plan a late celebration) if that works for you. Take photos and look back on them when the holiday or event actually occurs.

Give goodnight "kisses"

Buy or repurpose a bowl as a goodnight kiss bowl. Fill it with Hershey's Kisses and create a nighttime ritual around having a "kiss" goodnight. Like you would at the family dinner table or before bed, have the kids talk about their day and say goodnight. You can video record the conversation and send it to mom or dad to have when they wake up or go to bed. Have your spouse record "good nights" or "good mornings" in advance or occasionally while deployed to play for the kids.

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Create a memory basket

Sharing big celebrations with a deployed parent can be easy, but remembering the little moments that go into each day's memories can be difficult for children. Create a memory basket by writing down moments from each child's day that have been exciting or that they want to share with their parent. If they run out of things to talk about on video chat, grab a memory out of the basket and have the child tell mom/dad about the experience. If you have leftover memories, save them for when your spouse returns and have the kids "show" and share their favorite memories.

Create art

Children put an incredible amount of expression into their art. Paint or draw pictures of events or experiences with your kids and send the art to your deployed spouse. If the art is too big or you'd prefer to keep it safe at home, scanning it in and emailing it works, too. A fun art project for kids is to recreate your home's art for the deployed spouse's room. Have them draw or paint the art on your walls and send it in a care package so they can decorate their parent’s room like home.

Talk to your local spouse group or chaplain for more resources or advice on how to talk about deployment with your children. Don't be afraid to reach out to the military community for advice, resources and information.

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