Dr. James Bender, DCoE psychologist on April 13, 2011
Doc Bender on top of the Ziggurat of Ur in Southern Iraq, in February 2009. (Courtesy photo)
Hello. April is the Month of the Military Child, so I think it’s appropriate to write about a topic that not only affects service members, but their kids too.
Without question, the best part of deployment is coming home. But even after a joyful reunion, the weeks and months after homecoming can pose special challenges for your children, no matter their ages:
- Infants and small children (ages 0 to 3): may not remember you or be uncomfortable around you; like you’re a stranger. This is not abnormal and will diminish after a few weeks. Spending time with your child and generally being an active parent will help.
- Middle-age children (ages 4 to 12): may be overly clingy and affectionate, often because they’re afraid you’re going to leave again. Just be patient and explain that even though you’re leaving for work in the morning, you’ll be back in the evening. Constant reassurance should help with this problem. Also, make near-future plans with them, like a picnic in two days or playing catch in the yard when you come home from work. This will both reassure them that you’ll be back soon and allow for quality time together.
- Teenagers: may be distant or even hurtful, accusing you of abandoning them. Teen angst (there have been many books written on the subject) needs an outlet, and your deployment offers a good opportunity for them to vent. Try not to take it personally—I know this will be hard to do sometimes. Recognize that they have suffered because of your absence even though they didn’t volunteer for service. All families, military or not, have hardships that children must endure. Resist the temptation to make it up to them by buying expensive gifts. Giving them your time will be better for both them and your bank account. Also, try not to disrupt their schedule too much; respect that they have sports and activities with friends that are important to them.
While you’re considering your children’s challenges, be sure to be honest with yourself about any difficulties you may be experiencing. Your parenting will suffer if you’re in need of help and not getting it. Problems concentrating, anxiety, withdrawing from others, excessive drinking and trembling hands, are just a few of the symptoms of combat stress. Seek professional help if these symptoms continue or have an impact on your day-to-day functioning.
A good resource to keep in mind is afterdeployment.org, a website that has content directed to service members and their families about some of the challenges that are often faced following a deployment. You can also check out my post Helping Children Cope with Deployments for more on this topic.
Most children, and their parents, are resilient and bounce back just fine after a few weeks. But consider contacting your installation Family Advocacy Program (FAP) if you have any problems. Regardless of age, you want to send the same message: your kids are special and important and you’re committed to them.
Feel free to write me with any questions. Thanks to you, and your children, for your service.