How to Help Your Child Cope When Your Spouse Has a Military Deployment
By Patricia Davis, MS
May 30, 2018
Updated Nov 17, 2023
5 min read
Deployments are a normal part of life when you’re in the military. Unfortunately, they don’t get any easier when you have kids. If your spouse is in the military, helping your child cope with their absence can seem overwhelming. Whether this is your spouse’s first military deployment or their fifth, there are things you can do to prepare yourself and your children. Preparation beforehand is crucial to having a good experience for everyone.
Your spouse’s frequent or long-lasting deployments are having an impact on your children. Research shows these types of deployments can cause your children to feel depressed, anxious, and insecure. Children of deployed service members may even begin exhibit behavioral problems. This gets worse if your spouse is injured or is deployed to a dangerous area. And it’s not just grade schoolers who have a hard time. Your spouse’s deployments affect everyone in the family, from teenagers down to infants. Not to mention…you, the parent who’s left at home.
Want to know one of the best ways to cushion your child from the effects of a military deployment? Take care of yourself. If your own mental health is suffering, it’ll be harder for your child to cope. Schedule time for just you. Exercise. Eat well. Lean on whatever resources you have available, including childcare assistance and/or support groups. Surround yourself with supportive and loving friends and family. A lot of resources are out there for military families. Use them! If you find you’re struggling, get help.
Don’t wait until your spouse is leaving to talk to your child about their deployment. Long before it’s time for your spouse to leave, explain to your child what’s going to happen. Answer their questions in an age-appropriate way. Show them where you spouse will be going. Include them as much as possible so they have a chance to process the separation. Numerous resources like books, websites, and TV shows can help your child prepare. When the time comes, let your child say goodbye to your spouse — that’s an important part of the process.
After your spouse leaves for their deployment, try to keep your daily routine as normal as possible. With your spouse gone, you may feel like your normal routines and discipline can go out the window. Unfortunately, your child needs a sense of routine to help them feel safe. Keeping the same rules and routines, will help your child actually feel less anxious and insecure. This is important even when your spouse returns home. Let your kids know they can count on some things staying the same.
Regular communication with both parents is good for your child. Discuss with your spouse before they leave how they’d like to communicate with the whole family. Whether you choose to do letters, packages, cards, or videos, regular communication is important for your child. Don’t do regular video chat’s if there’s a chance you won’t be able to continue doing them the whole deployment. The sudden cut-off may cause your child to worry. Instead opt for more regular forms of communication like letters, emails, or pictures.
Your spouse’s deployment doesn’t have to be all bad news. Brainstorm fun ways to pass the time. Take a picture a day to send to your spouse. Do a countdown on a paper chain. Find ways to explore where your child’s military parent is serving. Try cooking food from that area and learning about their customs. Put up a bulletin board in your home with maps, pictures, and accumulated postcards and letters that come from your spouse. Have fun packing care packages for daddy or making regular videos for mommy. Take the whole experience and emphasize the good. It’ll make things more bearable, and even fun, for everyone.
Whether you like or not, a military deployment will change your child. Fortunately, some of those changes can be positive. Some of these positive changes include:
A military deployment can be difficult for any family. Learning how to cope with the experience is good for both you and your child. Prepare for the process and utilize resources for military families.