Supporting Children Whilst A Loved One Is Away
Children miss their parents when they are away - FACT. This doesn't mean their world has to fall apart, or that they will be damaged by the experience. What this does mean is that they need support and love. This may seem obvious, however, separation can be a confusing time for children, especially when the parent that is still at home is upset, angry and confused as well. You may wish to use different ways for helping your child to picture where mummy or daddy is. A wall-map with pins, or using an atlas or the Internet to keep up with where the unit is and what they are doing can really help. Taped messages and photographs can be really useful in keeping the children's mental image of mum or dad alive and vivid. One growing method of keeping in touch is the use of digital cameras, especially those with sound and video facilities. Messages can then be exchanged via the Internet or CD ROMs by post. This allows the absent parent to send pictures, text and voice messages to the family, and for the family to send messages back. Alternatively, postcards, letters and pictures can serve just as well to keep parents and children in touch. The Navy has produced a booklet called "When A Special Person Goes Away", which includes ways to support Billy whilst dad or mum is away by sharing how he feels or expects dad or mum is doing.
Downloadable File: When A Special Person Goes Away Booklet (PDF)
To view the PDF file (Portable Document Format), you will need Adobe Acrobat Reader®. Click here to get your FREE download of the software.
Little Billy really misses his dad, what can I do?
It is important that children receive constant reassurance that they are loved and that the absent parent will return. There are, however, specific things you can do at different points to underline this message.
Pre-Deployment - Talk honestly and openly with the children and try to understand how they are feeling about the separation. Constant reassurances of the departing parent's eventual return are vital. Children will worry as much as the rest of us and their concerns are legitimate. Involve them as much as possible in the deployment by discussing the work you will be doing; give them a map, and if you are going on a ship consider using the RN website's interactive programmes beforehand to show them the ship and its internal layout etc.
Web site: RN Interactive Pages
Deployment - Children need extra support and attention during the separation. It is important to keep the absent parent in the family's everyday emotional life. Talk about the separation and what they miss. This can make feelings seem more painful to start with but it helps the subsequent reunion.
Children lose part of their security when a parent leaves. This can show up in varying degrees of difficult behaviour such as temper tantrums, bed-wetting, fall-off in school performance etc. Expect some questioning about death, e.g. will daddy kill people or be shot? It is necessary to address these concerns calmly and honestly - even if you are worried about the same thing.
Older children may 'take it out' on their younger brothers and sisters. Some may become more protective of their mother / father. Some may become upset or emotionally withdrawn. Any of these could indicate the child may be having difficulty with separation; it could on the other hand just be a part of adolescence. The key is to discuss the child's feelings about the separation rather than focus on the behaviour alone.
Some suggestions that might help:
Keep roughly the same rules for children during the separation as you normally would.
Try to spend individual time with each child - although as a single parent this can be difficult.
The absent parent should write separate letters to each child.
The children should also be encouraged to write to the absent parent and can include work done at school.
Keep photographs of the absent parent by the child's bed and use them as part of the going to bed routine e.g., "say goodnight to Daddy."
Inform teachers of the absence so any changes in behaviour or performance at school are not handled inappropriately.
Reunion - This can be harder than you think and you might expect:
There may be both positive and negative reactions from your children. Try to show understanding about negative reactions.
Your children will have changed.
You may have to 'win back' your children's affections.
Spend as much time as possible with your family after your return. Let the children set the pace of getting to know you again. Be careful to avoid making any changes in their routine for a few weeks after your return.
Go slow and be available for them with your time and emotions. Be sensitive about showing favouritism. Encourage them to tell you what has been happening in their lives whilst you have been away. Focus on their achievements, however small and limit criticism.
Accept changes and adapt to it. Learn from how your partner manages the children including the routines and rules in place. Do not give in to demands just because you feel guilty.
More Information: Communication
More Information: Stages of Service Separation
More Information: Making That Homecoming Happy
Web site: BBCi Parenting pages
Web site: Direct Gov Pages for Parents