Stability, normalcy help children deal with parents' absence
MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — Each child reacts differently to having a parent deployed, said Sollars Elementary School counselor Susan Blake.
Younger kids might regress, perhaps wanting to sleep in the same bed as the parent at home, for example, or become clingy.
Older children might display shorter tempers or give a parent grief about things that before weren’t an issue.
Blake said it’s important for the parent at home to keep the same limits and boundaries “because that’s what keeps [children] safe.”
Maintain routines, she said, such as reading a story at bedtime.
“Kids will do as well as the family is doing,” she said.
Though older kids may not be as apt to talk about their emotions — sometimes because they want to protect the other parent — Blake said a deployment still affects them.
“They read [the news], watch CNN,” she said. “They are much more cognizant of what can happen and need reassurance just as much.”
Blake also advises parents to give kids age-appropriate information.
“If a 7-year-old asks ‘Where are you going?’ if you can tell him, show him a map, look it up in the encyclopedia,” she said.
But don’t make promises that can’t be kept, Blake said.
“If you promise Tokyo Disneyland, then Tokyo Disneyland better happen,” she said. “Sometimes, when we leave, because of our own guilt, we want to promise something big. You can even plan something small that they can hang their hat on, such as going to the food court and eating sundaes. The most powerful thing for kids is parent time.”
Tech. Sgt. Eliezer Huertas, a noncommissioned officer in charge of life support for the 14th Fighter Squadron, says to let kids know well ahead of time about the deployment. Huertas is preparing to deploy to Iraq. He and his wife, Master Sgt. Teresa Huertas, who’s been deployed since August, have four daughters, ages 7 to 16. Close family friends will watch the girls until Teresa returns.
“The way I calm my kids down is I let them know that although I’m going to be leaving and they don’t like it, I’m going over to replace someone else who has a family” waiting for them, he said. “It wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t go and they had to stay.”
Communicate, Huertas said. He and the girls talk to Teresa via a webcam, and being able to see her facial expressions has made a big difference, Huertas said.