Helping Children Work Through Family Separation
Members of the military are often gone quite a bit. In the Army National Guard, we train annually in the field from a week to a month to prepare for any kind of scenario (i.e., a war or other conflict) that may arise. When our Commander-in-chief ask us to deploy to another country, we are away from home for a year to 15 months. In our current technological era, the internet and phone have become staples to communicate with our families as often as we can.
I was deployed to Baghdad during 2006 to 2008, and our unit had internet. The internet was our main way of communicating with our loved ones, and we enjoyed the ability to use video to see our families back home. Video chats were an awesome way to be able to stay close; even though we were unable to hold each other, we were able to see each other.
On January 9, 2009 my unit once again deployed to Iraq, this time further north to the predominantly Kurdish city of Kirkuk, a very volatile area. Again my first purchase was the internet. Internet in Iraq is totally different than it is in the United States. For example, we have to be careful about what programs we use, as not all will cooperate with Iraq’s slower system. I made sure before I left home to download Skype, because it uses a lower bandwidth and does not cut out like other video chat programs. I was able to video chat with my family – including my grandson, who was born in the middle of my previous deployment and was living with our family. Having the capability of seeing and talking to my grandson, Dillon, was an invaluable way to build our relationship. We began having short conversations on Skype together, and we built a bond during that year that continues to flourish today.
I recently deployed to Iraq for a third time to help close down and pull completely out of the country. I will once again use my computer and internet to communicate with my family. It is important to me to continue strengthening the bond with my grandson so that he doesn’t lose that trust we have built together.
If your career or other circumstances call you away from home for long periods of time, there are ways to keep the bond and trust that you have built with the children in your life. Here are a few ideas:
- Video chatting keeps that face to face recognition you have when you are home. The child will see you and know you.
- If you don’t have video chat, there are many ways to record yourself reading a book. Children love to hear their favorite stories over and over, and you can still read to them even while you are far away. An easy and free way to record stories is to use your own tape recorder or video camera, but there are also many options of books (and photo albums) that have recorders built in.
- Another option for those without internet is to take a tape recorder with you and regularly send back tapes of you talking to the child. Pretend you are on the phone, and keep your recording upbeat.
- Print out pictures of you or of you and the child together. The child can carry pictures on a key chain, hang them on his wall, or put them in other special areas (make sure they are at his eye level) around the house. You can laminate the pictures to keep them safe from tearing; that also makes them sturdier for children who want to carry them around or play with them. (I also do the same by carrying pictures of Dillon.)
Taking steps to help children work through separation will ease the transition upon your arrival home. Make it a priority to maintain that great relationship, trust, bond, companionship and commitment to being a great parent or grandparent.
For more resources on helping children cope with a loved one’s deployment, see:
- Activities for Children
- Deployed Parent Fact Sheets
- Deployment Information – How You Can Help in the Classroom
- Kids Projects for Deployed Parents
- Our Military Kids
- Parents Called to Active Duty: Helping Children Cope
- Providing a Strong Foundation for the Military Child
- Resources for Military Children Affected by Deployment
- Tips for Parents: Supporting the Child Whose Military Parent is Deploying
Many thanks to my crazy brother, Staff Sergeant Monty Mitchell, for contributing this piece. My thoughts are with him and all the soldiers serving overseas, as well as their families.
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"Helping Children Work Through Family Separation"
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