Thank you for joining me on this journey. My prayer is that I am able to share some insights for those of you facing a deployment or a lengthy separation. Be sure to check out my introduction to this series, if you missed it last week.
This week we are discussing communication with your children.
I believe, the absolute worst thing you could do for a child (when facing this type of separation) is to not discuss what is happening.
It is imperative that children of all ages be included in what is going on with the family and especially with dad (or mom, but it’s dad in our situation, so that’s the reference I’m using).
We began discussing the upcoming separation in normal, every day conversation (age appropriate, of course) well in advance of the actual departure date. There is absolutely no reason to stress to your children the magnitude of such a separation or how much they will miss daddy, etc. – especially if they’ve never endured more than a few weeks’ of separation. Work it into conversation casually and be prepared to answer questions honestly.
If your child is old enough to understand the concept of time in larger increments, it helps if they know how long to expect daddy to be gone (if the length is known).
We also used this deployment as a geography lesson. We studied where Iraq is on our globe, learned a few things about the country and also discussed some of the reasons why Michael had to go there.
I believe treating a long separation as a learning experience, rather than allowing your children to fear it, works out better for the entire family.
Here are the ways we have handled discussing the length of the separation with our children (this includes what is working for us since Michael left, also):
* Jacob, our oldest was five when Michael left and had a pretty good grasp of time up to about a year (ie. hours, days, months and the year), so we went through the calendar counting off the months and discussing how, even though it looks like a long time on the calendar, it will pass by pretty quickly and before he knows it, daddy will be back. He rarely asks if it’s time for daddy to come home and when he does, I have him think it through for himself by prompting him with questions. This seems to work better for him than simply telling him “no, he doesn’t come home until June.”
* Eli, our middle child is three, so the concept of that amount of time was too big to grasp. However, he does know the months in order, so we discuss it that way. Michael left in December, so any time Eli wonders when daddy is coming home, we go over what the current month is and then we say the names of the subsequent months until we get to June. He counts up how many months it is. Then I have him take it a little further, he holds up 6 fingers (6 months) and we count off the months that have already passed, leaving only the remaining months. This way it’s a tangible (and small) number for him.
* Rachael, was 15 months when Michael left, there’s really not any preparing you can do for them at that age.
What about you? Do you have any additional suggestions or tips that have worked for your children to help them understand what/why?
Be sure to come back next Friday – I’ll be discussing tangible ways to help your children cope after dad leaves.
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