My 7-year-old daughter, Ellie, is a Daddy’s girl, as all little girls are at that age. A Daddy and daughter relationship is a beautiful thing. One that should be nurtured throughout the years to give girls a sense of qualities they should seek in a future spouse. A Dad is literally a little girl’s world. So when my husband informed me that he would be deploying to Afghanistan for 9 months, my first thought was on my daughter. She’s going to be devastated, I said to my husband.
It was February when my husband informed me of the deployment. He would leave 7 months later in September. I felt a little relieved because I thought I had time to prepare my daughter, but it was still hard. To get into the correct mindset of mentally preparing your child for deployment, you have to think in terms of a child.
How to Explain Deployment to a Child
Concept of Time
At first, Ellie really didn’t understand what deployment meant. She knew Dad would leave but time away for a child is different. The concept of being away for 9 months didn’t register with her. Children view time by the days of the week; which Ellie was used to having her Dad gone for training 2 weeks at a time. So, she assumed deployment meant that length of time.
To give her a timeframe she would understand, I had to give her a scope of the school year. Telling her that when she starts school, Daddy will leave a little after that and return when school is almost over. That gave her a timeframe she understood.
Immediately, she began asking questions if Daddy would be home for her birthday and Christmas. Of course, the answer was no, but I reassured her that Daddy would be at her birthday via video chat and send her special presents. This consoled her somewhat.
Bedtime is the Worst
During the day, children are occupied at school and their mind doesn’t dwell on Daddy being gone. At home and especially at night when getting ready for bedtime, the waterworks begin. My daughter is usually tired and when you’re tired, you’re emotional. She begins asking questions if I miss Daddy too and I wish Daddy wasn’t a soldier.
All I can do is listen to her and reassure her that Daddy will be home soon. Tell her I understand how she feels. By the end of the day, I’m tired too from chasing around a toddler and taking care of the home. Being patient and understanding of what your child expresses to you will help.
Acknowledge How She Feels
Everyone wants to be acknowledged on how they feel. Children are no different. By simply acknowledging how she is hurting inside works wonders.
Ellie, I know you Miss Your Daddy. I know you miss him so much it hurts.
Once their pain has been acknowledged, move to ask what can WE do to help with the pain.
The keyword here is WE. Make sure your child knows you are there to help her with her pain. When you ask the question about what we can do, about 99% of the time your child will say I don’t know.
This is when you step up and give some suggestions of what she can do. Suggestions may include:
- A favorite family activity – Ellie likes Skating
- Make or Pick out a Card for Dad – Trip to the Store is Always Fun
- Mail a Special Package to Daddy
- Planning a special trip when Daddy comes home. – We are planning Disney trip
- A special outing with Mom or Grandparents – Movie and dinner
Greatest Fear Voiced
Be prepared for your child to voice your greatest fear. It’s their way of coping and wanting reassurance from you. My daughter will say things like Will Daddy get hurt? I don’t want Daddy to be a soldier or Mommy, I’m glad you’re not deployed too. But one night at bath time, my daughter said my worst fear, Mommy, I don’t have a good feeling about Daddy. I think he’s going to get shot. My breath caught in my lungs and I looked at her and said NO, Daddy is safe. He’s in the office not on patrol. I made sure to have a calm look on my face because inside I was freaking out!!!! My 7-year-old literally voiced my greatest fear that my husband was going to get hurt and not come back home. By staying calm, I reassured her that Daddy would be fine.
Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program
Before my husband left for Afghanistan, we were able to participate in the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program (YRRP) for Army Reserve and National Guard Members. The program is designed to give families of soldiers being deployed resources and information to make the process easier on families.
The Yellow Ribbon Program was held in Denver over a 2 day period. My husband, daughter and I attended the event while my son stayed home with Grandma. The event was very informative. I learned so much and all the resources that are available to families really let you feel reassured that everything is going to be okay while your spouse is away.
Interventions for Children
Daddy Doll – One of the resources YRRP shared with me is getting Ellie a Daddy Doll. A Daddy Doll is basically what it is. A doll with a picture of Ellie’s Daddy. Ellie loves her Daddy Doll. She carries it around when at home and hugs it to sleep. I was awoken one night at 1 am to a frantic little girl who said she left her Daddy Doll downstairs. The doll was actually in her bed under the covers. The doll helps her feel connected to her Daddy.
Grants for Extra Curricular Activities – Our Military Kids.org has grants to pay for extracurricular activities for your child while the parent is deployed. Have your child engaged in an activity that is fun and exciting. It will help them develop personal, social skills and may ward off depression too. It’s something for them to look forward too.
Normalcy in the Home – While my husband is deployed, we made the decision for me to be at home with our children, our daughter (7) and son (2). My job as a self-contained Special Education Teacher was physically hard and I needed to be engaged and not a wet noodle when I came home from work. My daughter tells me all the time how happy she is that I’m home with her. Simply waiting for her at the bus stop brings us both JOY!
Communicate with the Teacher – When I registered Ellie for 1st grade, we went to her soon-to-be- classroom and met her wonderful teacher. As I told Ellie ’s teacher that her Dad was deploying in September, her teacher readily understood. She told me her own story of when her father deployed around the same age as Ellie and how emotional it was for her. I was relieved because she understood what Ellie would be going through and would keep me informed if she sees any changes in Ellie’s personality.
Marco Polo App – We use the Marco Polo App to record videos when we aren’t able to call my husband because of the time difference. I downloaded the app for Ellie on her Ipad so she can record her own messages to her Dad. It makes her feel like she has her Dad’s attention and can converse with him as they once did.
U.S. Priority Mail – You can receive free boxes and domestic postage fees when shipping to an APO address. Ellie loves writing cards to her Dad and stuffing little surprises in the box when shipping it her Dad.
Father Figure – While my husband is away, I’ve noticed that both of my children crave male attention. For example, my daughter’s soccer coach takes center stage when Ellie is at practice. She will talk his head off and my son will bring all his toys to a friend’s Daddy to show and get feedback when we visit. So, who gets to step up and show the children a little male attention? Grandpa, of course! Both my parents have really stepped up and help with showering the children love and attention.
Prayer – We pray for my husband’s safe return. When at church, my daughter wants to light a candle and pray for her Daddy’s well-being. Prayer is good for the soul and gives us emotional reassurances that everything is going to be okay.
As time passes, missing her Daddy has not subsided. It hasn’t gotten easier for her; especially, with the upcoming holidays approaching. I’ve had to become wiser about my words of consolation to her and at times put it in perspective to be happy about what she has because some children can have two parents deployed at one time. We are patiently waiting for my husband’s return from deployment. Until then, we pray for all the men and women serving abroad. May they return safely to their families who miss them immensely.