On Tuesday, I will have the opportunity to speak at the Quarterly Resiliency Forum for our battalion about something very dear to my heart. Kids!!! We as adults can cope and we as adults understand our feelings more than kids so it is an honor to be able to speak on kids and how we can help them cope with deployment. Here is my draft for what will hopefully give a few someones some ideas to make it through the next nine months.
Hey guys. My name is Ami Phines and my hubby will be going on this deployment too. I am here today to just give some ideas on how to help the kids get through the deployment. There is a lot of talk on help if we as adults need it, but hasn’t been discussed much on what to do with the kids. I wanted to pass on some ideas that we have picked up on through the years. But first I want you all to watch this….
This is a video of my hubby reading to my kids. This may surprise some of you in this room because if you know my husband you know he most definitely is not a big old softy and if you are a scout DO NOT expect any of this to ever show up to any of you. But realizing that he is leaving behind our kids for a good chunk of time, he knows he has a responsibility as a parent to do things BEFORE he leaves to stay connected to them and make that transition as smooth as possible.
Helping kids cope with deployment doesn’t start when your soldier actually is gone. It needs to start now with preparing them for what is to come. Depending on the level of understanding, depends on what you can tell them. How and what you tell them is different for every family. We tell our kids everything from location to job to risk, but I know many people aren’t comfortable with their kids knowing exactly what is going on and so that information will be different for everyone depending on what you want them to know. You do need to understand that the younger ones aren’t going to understand how long the deployment is going to be because their sense of time is non-existent and so having tools to use is very important to help them. This is where some of the tools I will talk about come into play. The soldier leaving needs to make sure to spend quality time with them and not start to pull away from them. If you have every experienced a deployment before you know that before the soldiers actually leave there comes a time where they will start to pull away. This is the time that it is so very important to realize that is happening and make an effort to stay attached to the kids. The spouse would be nice too, but we can comprehend what is happening whereas the kids will be even more confused and hurt and compound what emotions are going to take place. Make sure you take the time to make memories in the next few weeks that will help those kids to remain connected to you though out the deployment and make redeployment that much easier.
· After the soldiers leave, those of us left behind are left to carry on the load of both parents. How we react to the separation will project onto the kids. For us we have a timeframe. We give ourselves 48 hours to be emotional if I need to, eat junk food watch movies and be a bum. After that it is time to suck it up and it is up to me to set the example. If I am falling apart, my kids will fall apart and my husband won’t be able to concentrate completely on the task at hand. If I am holding strong then my kids will hold strong, Josh knows that I have things under control and his focus over there can be 100% and his job and safety will be that much better for it. Kids will try anything and everything while they are gone. When they were younger of course they tried the “I miss Daddy and that’s why I cut my sisters hair” routine where everything they did wrong was because they missed Dad and now we are into the what can I get away with since Dad is gone. To the Dad is gone and that’s why I did it, your response should be “Yes I am sure you do miss Dad but guess what…that is no excuse to make a poor choice and your consequence is still the same.” (and in reality for us it is much better than if Dad was here and they know it) They need to know that just because your spouse is gone it doesn’t mean you give in because they are gone or you are going to be in for a LONG deployment of mind games in which you won’t win. By keeping things consistent and keeping a routine you are giving them stability in a situation in which they have no control. The consistency is the key to making sure that they don’t see what they can get away with for long. They will test, they will push but keeping those boundaries is important. Now with all this said it does not mean that I don’t have breakdowns, because I do. It is healthy, it is going to happen, but there is a constructive way to deal with it. Do they see me cry? Sure sometimes but not all the time. Is it ok for them to cry and miss them…most definitely so long as it doesn’t become an excuse to not take out the trash or go to bed.
· Everyone needs two people during the deployment…one you call when you wake up in the morning and think “I am done”. You call and they tell you guess what…your big girl panties are in the dryer…get them on and deal with it and it will be ok. The other person is the one you can depend on to be there at a moment’s notice. If I stop by Lindsay’s house and say here are my kids I am checking out for an hour and getting a pedicure she will say ok see you in an hour with no questions asked. You all have access to 16 free hours a month in childcare! USE IT..you can use a center or an FCC provider. It will help you to reset and stay fresh and give yourself time for yourself. It makes you able to handle those temper tantrums that much easier. As much as that sounds like I am telling you how to cope instead of the kids, that is one of the most important keys to helping the kids get through it. If you are mentally sound, your kids will be ready to go and a positive and strong attitude will facilitate a much easier deployment.
· As we all know, when there is only one adult to cook for (this does not apply to those of us with teenagers and pre teens and we can’t keep enough food in the house) it is sometimes hard to cook healthy for just us and the kids. But believe it or not, the healthy eating is important to a successful deployment by keeping things “normal” and keeping their bodies healthy which in turn makes for more consistent and better attitudes.
· For those of us with older kids, this probably isn’t your first and you are probably well prepared and know that open communication is the key. The fun things can still happen but since they grasp the concepts of time and deployment, open communication and ensuring they know you are there for them is the most important coping skill.
· Now for the fun stuff! When most kids hear deployment if they have done it, they think UGH. But they don’t have to think UGH. Make it fun! Make new memories that happen only during deployments or separations. Find something that you and the kids love to do or steal an idea from a friend or steal some of what we do. Every deployment has brought us a new thing to add. The first deployment brought books on tape, daddy bears, Friday night living room night, and the daddy dolls and some serious travelling. The second deployment brought books on video, daddy bears, trash can countdowns, Friday night living room nights, skittle jars and two moves across country just us! This deployment brings everything from the second deployment but now we are upping the fun a little with ice cream for breakfast on Saturdays and some serious training and travelling with jiu jitsu. We tried the ice cream during NTC and I can say the fact that my kids were bummed he was coming home already tells me it worked. By making the deployment fun and doing things that ONLY happen when he is gone has given my kids something positive to look forward to instead of just dreading missing him.
· Now to explain some of the fun ways to introduce to your kids to make this upcoming deployment as fun as it can be.
o Trash can countdown: I found that when they were little days were too overwhelming to countdown so instead we counted down trash days. I made a chart of trashcans and every time we took the trash to the curb we crossed it off. I made some with 38 trash cans (b/c I always plan for the worst and unexpected) and there are copies in the back you are more than welcome to take.
o As you saw I had Josh read books to the kids while I video-taped before the last deployment. They can be your child’s favorite books or books that pertain to the deployment. Ours have always been We’re Going On A Bear Hunt, Daddy Promises (which is a book about A Father’s promise to take care of his child and is Christian based), and Daddy All Day Long which is a book about how much Owen and his Daddy love each other. These were just reminders to them that he still loved them and thought about them while he was gone.
o Daddy Bears many of you may know about. Ours are no longer bears but bears, monkeys and puppies. They are just build a bears with a message to your child. When they were younger, right before Josh left he would hug and kiss them over and over and over. That way at night or when they were sad they could always get a hug and a kiss from Dad because the bear was holding onto them for them. They always got a hug and a kiss before bed along with super tucks.
o We do Friday night living room night. We all sleep in the living room, make popcorn, and watch movies and TV. There is no set bedtime that night and that is the ONLY night of the week they stay up late. Even if they are little tiny you can still do something fun like this.
o Skittle Jars: The kids all decorate their own jar however they want with paints and stickers. We add on stickers because after all having 300+ skittles is going to be a disaster and for little ones is very frustrating. I do one month of skittles at a time and remove a sticker everytime they are gone. You can use any candy you want for this, we just like to do skittles.
o For the younger kids, Daddy/Mommy Dolls are a great tool to use. A picture of their parent on a doll for them to have. These can be found at daddydolls.com.
o Flat Daddies and Flat Mommies are another useful tool for some. Having a life size picture of Dad or Mom helps some kids cope with long term separations. You can order these from flatdaddies.com.
o The new one for us is ice cream for breakfast on Saturdays. I wasn’t sure how this one would work but it is AMAZING when you think of it as my kids did. I was informed that it wasn’t enough because it was ONLY 36 Saturdays and so ONLY 36 ice cream sundaes before their dad comes home. When you look at it like that, this 9 months is gonna fly!
· Most important. You can NEVER give enough of those hugs and kisses, I love you’s and high fives enough while they are gone. They are kids, they are facing things they can’t control and in many cases can’t comprehend. They will have tantrums (from little tiny to the older and way smarter than we are age) but they NEED that reassurance that you love them and are there for them.