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Connor Steele, 5, writes his name on a pillow case that he and his mother, Christine Steele, will mail to Connor's father, a sailor who is deployed to Kuwait until about February. Connor attended a workshop Monday in which experts gave coping tips to families of deploying sailors.
Connor Steele, 5, writes his name on a pillow case that he and his mother, Christine Steele, will mail to Connor's father, a sailor who is deployed to Kuwait until about February. Connor attended a workshop Monday in which experts gave coping tips to families of deploying sailors. (Sandra Jontz / S&S)
Connor Steele, 5, writes his name on a pillow case that he and his mother, Christine Steele, will mail to Connor's father, a sailor who is deployed to Kuwait until about February. Connor attended a workshop Monday in which experts gave coping tips to families of deploying sailors.
Connor Steele, 5, writes his name on a pillow case that he and his mother, Christine Steele, will mail to Connor's father, a sailor who is deployed to Kuwait until about February. Connor attended a workshop Monday in which experts gave coping tips to families of deploying sailors. (Sandra Jontz / S&S)
Navy Lt. Jennifer Wallinger, a nutritionist at Naval Hospital Naples, Italy, gives parents tips on how to prepare quick-yet-nutritious meals during a spouse’s deployment. She holds up printouts from a children's cookbook for parents attending Monday's deployment workshop.
Navy Lt. Jennifer Wallinger, a nutritionist at Naval Hospital Naples, Italy, gives parents tips on how to prepare quick-yet-nutritious meals during a spouse’s deployment. She holds up printouts from a children's cookbook for parents attending Monday's deployment workshop. (Sandra Jontz / S&S)

NAPLES, Italy — As the wife of a sailor, Melissa Robles is used to being separated from her husband. But his deployment in six months has filled her with all kinds of new worries: This will be the first in which she’s left behind as a temporarily single parent.

“I have concerns about how my daughter, especially, will handle the deployment,” Robles said of her 3-year-old.

But a deployment workshop, held Monday by the U.S. Naval Hospital Naples and the Fleet and Family Support Center, “affirmed” that she’s on the right track in preparing for the separation, she said.

“I feel I’m on the right course, making sure to be consistent with discipline and schedules,” she said.

The workshop featured lectures by a child psychologist who stressed the importance of keeping life as normal as possible for children, and then dealt directly with some of the emotions they might experience.

“Recognition of a child’s emotional state is important,” said clinical psychologist Cynthia Gracianette. “Ask them about it. Try to ask open-ended questions. … Get them to express their emotions.”

And children will test the limits of what they can get away with, now that mommy or daddy isn’t there, she warned. Parents can ease the strain of separation by making videotapes of the departing parents reading a favorite children’s book, for example, or building a “treasure chest” of gifts, so when children feel sad or lonely, they can retrieve a reminder of their loved ones.

Navy Lt. Jennifer Wallinger, a nutritionist at the hospital, offered tips on quick-and-easy meals that not only are less burdensome on the parent left behind to cook, but also get the children involved.

Her favorite is “Lickety-Split Meals,” a 2-inch-thick, slick-covered cookbook containing recipes that can be prepared in one, five, 15 or 30 minutes, she said.

Creativity is key, Wallinger said, as is getting the children involved in the cooking process to make them feel more useful at home.

Petty Officer 1st Class Anaestasia Jackson leaves next month for a seven-month deployment to Iraq and will send her 4-year-old son, Benjamin, to San Diego, where her husband is stationed, she said.

“I need to get all the tips that I can, so I can pass them to my husband,” she said. “All the information here today was great, the Web sites, the tips. It will really help.”

Benjamin spent the two hours his mother was learning drawing on a pillow case for her to take to Iraq. When told to draw a happy thought for his mother, he drew a car.

“I like cars,” he said.

Since he’s 4 years old, the purpose behind the drawing project might have been lost on him. His reason for attending focused on something else: “So we can get snacks.”

Helpful Web siteswww.deploymentkids.com

www.militaryonesource.com

www.survivingdeployment.com

www.imalreadyhome.com

— Sandra Jontz

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