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Honoring the Military Child: Help Children Cope with Separation

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SOURCE Real Warriors Campaign

WASHINGTON, April 25, 2014 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Keeping in touch with a parent who is deployed or away from home for training or other duties can be a major source of concern for children. Communicating with someone overseas or across the country is not easy and at times may seem impossible. It is common for children to feel disconnected from the parent who is away and to have difficulty coping. The Real Warriors Campaign (www.realwarriors.net) has articles that provide tips and resources that family members can use to stay connected and ease the period of separation for the child.

When it is time for a parent to deploy, children may react differently based on their age. In the early years, children will often distance themselves, cry frequently or have a change in lifestyle patterns such as eating and sleeping habits. As they grow older, children may respond to a parent's deployment with anger, they may act out or even pretend they do not care.

According to Capt. Wanda Finch, Chief, Psychological Health Advocacy Division at the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury, "Children respond differently to any separation from their parents depending on their age and maturity level. Whether the separation is because of a deployment or a training mission, communication is key to sustaining family resiliency."

There are ways to prepare before and during the separation to make it easier for the service member, the parent at home and the child. The campaign website has a number of resources for military families, and offers the following tips for keeping in touch and strengthening family bonds:

  1. Communicate about the mission. The parent should talk with the child about why he or she is leaving and let them know that the deployment or training is a part of the job, and not a result of something the child did.
  2. Spend time together before hand. Before a parent deploys, spending quality time together can be a great way to reinforce the relationship between parent and child. Try coloring story books (http://www.zerotothree.org/about-us/funded-projects/military-families/over-there-activity-book.html) specially designed for military children – it's a fun activity that also addresses deployment challenges that may arise. Spending time together before the separation is a great way to show children that they are loved and will be missed.
  3. Record your voice. Record yourself reading children's books, singing, sharing a message or just talking. Your children will be able to play the recordings whenever they need or want.
  4. Social Media: Social media provides new ways to connect and interact with your loved one. The campaign article "Using Social Media to Stay Connected" (http://realwarriors.net/active/treatment/socialmedia.php) highlights ways to use social media safely to communicate real time updates and share photos and videos.
  5. Schedule time to talk. Setting aside time each week to talk to loved ones can make keeping in touch a lot easier. Service members can stay up-to-date on their children's lives and maintain steady communication (http://www.realwarriors.net/family/children/deployment.php) with the parent who is away. Keep the schedule flexible, since deployments and training missions can sometimes be unpredictable.
  6. Write letters. Hand-written letters can offer a sense of comfort. They are easy to hold on to and can act as temporary placeholders during times when it may be difficult to stay in touch.
  7. Continue to acknowledge important events. Children in school may sometimes feel as if the deployed parent no longer cares about them. Consistently showing support during tough times and acknowledging the great things they accomplish or take part in, like a good report card, winning a sports game or celebrating a birthday, can positively impact the child. In addition, communicating with your child's school (http://www.realwarriors.net/family/change/school.php) throughout a separation helps educators better understand the potential stressors your child might be facing outside of the classroom.

Helping children cope with challenges can have a positive impact on the overall psychological health and well-being of the military family. Visit the Real Warriors Campaign at www.realwarriors.net for more tips and resources to help military families (http://realwarriors.net/family) and children (http://realwarriors.net/family/children) cope with separations and transitions. Service members, including members of the National Guard and reserve, veterans and military families can confidentially speak with a trained resource consultant 24/7 through the Real Warriors Live Chat feature (http://realwarriors.net/livechat) or by calling 866-966-1020. Also watch our newest volunteer, 1st Sgt. Aaron Tippet (http://realwarriors.net/multimedia/profiles/tippett.php), share his story about reaching out for help and the importance of family in building and maintaining resilience.

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