For military families, dealing with deployment and separation isn’t easy. Skills training is helping military families strengthen resilience through exercises that encourage children to talk about their feelings and parents to listen.
The Defense Centers of Excellence Real Warriors Campaign offers tips on how to openly talk about the subject of deployment with military children of all ages, including:
- Be thoughtful about sharing your emotions: try not to share too much (by losing control) or too little (by showing no emotion) with your children;
- Maintain normal family routines: regular activities like family games, bed times or celebrations are important to keep up;
- Listen to your children and their concerns: kids can have concerns about their parents that are difficult to express, so be available when they are ready to communicate;
- Monitor media coverage in your household: limit children’s exposure to media coverage of the conflicts around the globe to help reduce their anxiety about a parent’s deployment;
- Take care of yourself: find time to relax and accept help from family or friends if you’re feeling overwhelmed—you can communicate better when well-rested.
Many military families begin making the Daily Temperature Reading (DTR) part of their normal family interaction before deployment. Continuing to exchange DTR’s by phone, SKYPE, email, Facebook, or through letters during months of separation and again in person after returning home helps families stay connected.
Talking Tips and Emptying the Emotional Jug are also valuable skills military families learn in relationship and marriage education classes to help them keep their families strong through the transitions of deployment. Feedback from hundreds of veteran couples participating in relationship skills training after deployment has shown practical, evidence-based skills training can make a lasting difference to family resiliency.
While children may have trouble finding words to express their feelings about deployment, the Talking Tips sentence stems help youngsters express their thoughts and feelings while teaching parents to listen without interrupting, judging or dismissing their feelings.
For children who tend to bottle up their emotions, Emptying the Emotional Jug helps them raise feelings of anger, sadness, and fear to the surface to make room for positive emotions. When young people know they can express all of their feelings to a caring adult who listens with empathy, it helps them make sense of their emotions, strengthens connection and trust, and alleviates many of the acting-out behaviors that can be destructive.
Rob Henthorn grew up in a military family in Arlington, Virginia. His father served in the U.S. Army’s light infantry during WWII, the Ar