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5: SEPARATION

Our parents deploy.

Operation Purple® campers said deployments were one of the toughest parts about being a kid in a military family. A deployment is moving a person or a military unit from the United States to an overseas location to accomplish a task or mission. This can mean anything from six months on a ship to a year in combat.

Families typically go through three phases during this time: 1) getting ready to deploy; 2) spending the time apart during the deployment; and 3) reuniting and reintegrating with the service member on their return.

During the deployment, service members may come home on a break known as R&R (Rest and Relaxation). This break can be very hard on children, since saying goodbye for a second time can be more difficult than the first.

“I can’t wait for my dad to come home from his deployment. It’s going to be the best day ever.”

Each phase has unique stressors, but Operation Purple campers were particularly concerned about the reuniting or reintegrating phase. Research shows that older children and girls have more challenges reuniting with the parent. Preschoolers may feel scared or angry while school-age kids might crave attention. Reunion or reintegration is a process that occurs over several months, not just a single day or couple weeks. Family structure and roles must be renegotiated with the returning member. Furthermore, reserve component families also face the service member’s adjustment returning to a civilian job.

With the right support, these families can get through this long experience and become closer and stronger. Here are some things you can do:

  • Connect with the non-deployed parent. Much of the child’s well-being during deployment is based on the at-home caregiver’s mental health. Children whose parent has poorer mental health may experience more emotional difficulties and more challenges with academic engagement. By reaching out to the at-home parent, you will be able to identify the areas in which you can provide support.
  • Be sure the school counselor knows the dates of the parent’s departure, R&R, and return from deployment. Plan for the scheduling of tests and accommodate school attendance around these days, if possible. Work
    with your school district to develop a policy on handling these events.
  • Use the experience as an educational opportunity. Talking about where in the world the parent is deployed is a great geography lesson.
  • Help young children grasp the concept of time by creating a deployment time capsule filled with items such as a string that represents the child’s height when the parent leaves, a tracing of a hand or foot, a favorite toy or song. Open the capsule at the end of the deployment to see how much has changed.
  • Offer to help with carpools to sports and school activities to help the parent at home manage their kids’ schedules while the service member is gone.

Resources:

Military Child Education Coalition—resources and training for parents and educators of mobile military children. Visit www.militarychild.org for more information.

Zero to Three—Resources for the youngest military children. Visit www.zerotothree.org for more information.