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How to Talk to Your Children After Deployment

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Lt. Cmdr. Victor Glover is greeted by his daughters at the Naval Air Facility Atsugi airfield during a homecoming celebration. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Justin Smelley)

This blog post was written by Dr. Pam Murphy, a child psychologist at the National Center for Telehealth and Technology (T2), a Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury center.

Before the deployment you talked with your kids about what they thought or were worried about regarding the upcoming deployment. During the deployment you had a plan and made a real effort to stay in touch with your family. Now you’re home and you can relax, right? Actually, kids often say the time after their parent returns home is the toughest part of a deployment for them. It’s because of all the changes.

Think about the concept of change from a child’s point of view. They had things figured out during your absence. They had to. You wanted them to adjust to your absence because you wanted them to continue to grow and thrive while you were gone. Absolutely, your kids are relieved and happy to have you home, but now they have to adjust again.

Kids are amazingly resilient and your family will eventually get used to being together again. Here are a few things you can do to help speed the process along:

  • 1. Recognize it’s going to feel weird and uncomfortable for a while after you return home. This is normal! You’ll be on the outside looking in at this remarkable family of yours that had to figure out how to manage without you. Take it easy and enjoy the view for a bit.
  • 2. Invite your kids to talk with you about how things went for them during the deployment. Be open to their feelings and perceptions. Take off your military hat and your parent hat, and just listen to them as a caring adult.
  • 3. With older kids and teens especially, have a conversation about the responsibilities and privileges they had while you were gone. Many kids will be reluctant to give up these more “adult” roles. Thank them for their effort and sacrifice. Help them find a balance between maintaining some of those responsibilities and just “being a kid” with your return home.
  • 4. As you start making changes at home, seek your children’s feedback. You’re the parent and in charge, but home communication is different than military communication. Giving orders and expecting immediate compliance is necessary in the field, but discussion and compromise tend to work better at home.
  • 5. One of the best ways to help your children get used to you again is to integrate yourself into their daily life. Change their diapers. Fix a meal. Take them to practice. Read a bedtime story. Pick them up from school. Go meet their teachers. Look at your children’s daily routines and find places you can ease in and begin the process of reconnecting.

For more ideas on helping children cope with deployment, check out the resources for parents and caregivers at MilitaryKidsConnect.org.

For more blog posts written by subject matter experts at T2, visit the ‘blog section’ of afterdeployment.org.


Comments (3)

  • claudio Alpaca 28 Nov

    become friends of your child, make your child your best friend. live naturally and create with them an open rapport. This will aid you to surmount the PTSD and them will be of great aid, as PTSD need love, solidarity, humanity to be superate. there will be difficulties, but together you will abate them. Speak with your child as you have ever made and don't hesitate to ask their help, Children are more sensible and able to have the right words for you.
  • Joe 28 Nov

    My children under the age of 6, they are too small to understand the subject, but ask questions like children. What am I supposed to tell them?
  • Dr. Pam Murphy 28 Nov

    @Joe, Here are a few suggestions for talking with younger children: - Try asking them first what THEY think the answer to their question is. Their answers can help you know what else to say. - Be sure to correct any misunderstandings they may have. A young child's imagination is often much scarier than reality. - Share stories about common, everyday things you did or saw that a young child would understand. Avoid discussing traumatic events you may have experienced. - Keep your explanations simple and brief. Little ones have a very short attention span. - Realize some of your child's questions are likely about their worry that you will go away again. Be honest, but clear that you will always make sure they are cared for and safe. Hope this helps!

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