If as an adult you struggle with your soldier being deployed, try to imagine for a moment how your children feel about this confusing and stressful time. Or perhaps you were a military child yourself and you understand the angst that goes along with waiting for a deployment to end and wishing for a sense of normalcy to return. Parents, grandparents, and caregivers often face the challenges of caring for children who struggle with understanding their emotions about their soldier’s deployment. They do this all while trying to deal with their own roller coasters of feelings during deployment. Fortunately, there are several things that can be done to help children understand their own feelings and keep communication open between you and them.
Establish a Safe Method of Communication
Kids sometimes simply don’t know what is OK to talk about and what causes people to become agitated or frustrated at the mere mention. As they try to handle their own emotions, they add to that worrying that bringing up their own sadness will make others sad, so they avoid the conversation altogether. Try some of these activities to keep kids talking and give them safe zones for doing so.
Invest in an inexpensive conversation ball, like the ones available here. There are numerous vendors who offer these fun, inexpensive conversation starters. There are dozens of phrases or questions listed all over the ball. It gets tossed around and when given a prompt or when the music stops, the person holding the ball reads the question under his left thumb (for example), and provides an answer. These can be as basic as: “When I grow up I want to be a…” to something more significant such as, “The last thing I prayed about was…”. These balls give families opportunities to have active fun together but still incorporate conversations. You might be surprised at what your child reveals during this game.
Whether you play a game or not, find a way and a time each day to let your kids know that you would like to hear from them how they are doing. Make sure you are not rushed, there are no spying ears around to overhear, and you come into the situation without your own overwhelming emotions.
Help Your Kids Understand Their Emotions
Find a method that works for your child to record her feelings. For some kids, this is a simple as a diary or journal, but for others it might be recording their own stories onto the computer, keeping a collection of drawings and artwork, or using a camera to capture pictures that reflect how they feel. They can use the camera to take reverse images in the mirror, seeing themselves and the emotional faces they can make.
Give words to emotions and build your child’s emotional intelligence. Instead of using general terms to sum up emotions, such as sad, happy, OK, scared, and fine, elaborate on deeper feelings. You can do this by discussing the feelings that others display, even on television or in a movie. Say something such as, “It looks to me like that man is feeling frustrated that his family didn’t listen, and he might be feeling scared about what he will do next. What do you think?” This is an example of how you can show your child that sometimes we are feeling more than one thing at a time, and it is not always easy to figure that out and find a way to deal with those emotions. Then you can ask for their thoughts and ideas. It is safer sometimes to discuss what someone else might be feeling and how they deal with that, and then apply those examples to our own lives.
Children move through transitional stages physically, emotionally, and mentally, and it is challenging to raise them even in the best of circumstances. Work to acknowledge their feelings and give them opportunities to share them. If you are ever concerned that you just can’t give them the help they need with their emotions and concerns, bring someone into their lives that can help – a friend, neighbor, or even therapist. Our children’s emotions require more care than all of the glassware in the world, but you can do it through persistence and patience.
Photo credit: Andy