Connecting During a Deployment with Children and Teens

Wendy Poling
Frequent Contributor

"The most important source of security to a child is the connection with parents." - Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg, M.D.


Parenting is indeed an adventure. Add to the mix one of the parents is deployed and you can have a stressful situation on your hands. How do you juggle it all?


I recently had the opportunity to attend a workshop on "Building Resilience in Military-affiliated Children and Teens," by Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg.


Dr. Ginsburg, M.D., is a pediatrician specializing in Adolescent Medicine at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and an Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.


He is currently working with The Child, Adolescent and Family Behavioral Health Office of the US Army and The Military Child Education Coalition to prepare military parents, health professionals, counselors, and teachers to incorporate stress reduction and resilience building strategies for the nation's nearly 2 million military-affiliated children. "The overriding goal of these efforts is to assure military spouses and children are prepared to thrive despite needing to cope with their loved one's deployment."


I learned so many great things at the workshop that have helped me that I wanted to share some with you.


Dr. Ginsburg highlighted the goal is to maintain strong connections through on-going communication, effective listening, and family rituals that will serve as reminders of the presence of the distant parent.


Distance can be a strong barrier when it comes to a deployed parent connecting with our kids.


Here are three tips for ongoing communication:

  • Display photos of the deployed parent around your home or the child's bedroom as concrete reminders of their mom or dad.
  • Have the deployed parent send photos of them in their living quarters or work space, near their vehicle, etc.
  • Create a Flat Daddy or Flat Mommy, a life-size photograph cutout, to display in a visible area in your home and/or to take with you to important events!

When it comes talking to our kids, not knowing what to say or saying too much can cause us to worry and to even not say anything at all.


Here are three tips for effective listening:

  • When you aren't sure where to start or what to say, "let your children guide you on what they want to hear."
  • Ask questions. Remember "listening is more about asking leading questions; it's also about noticing behaviors that offer a strong hint of what is going on." Ask leading questions like, "What would you like to talk about?"
  • Be available when your child is ready to talk, which may be during a drive or while cooking dinner instead of at a "sit down talk".

Keeping routines is important to providing the comfort of predictable days and events.


Here are three tips for family rituals or routines:

  • Family dinners - Plan a family dinner several nights of the week, for example try these themed meals: Taco Tuesdays or Saturday morning pancakes
  • Sporting events - Creating memories is important. If your family has always loved going to a professional baseball game, don't let the absence of the deployed parent stop you from participating. Go to the ballpark have a hot dog and take lots of photos. Share the experience with your deployed loved one by sending the photos in the next care package along with a letter describing the experience. Tell them you can't wait to go to a game together when they return home.
  • Baking - Try making cupcakes, muffins, or a family recipe. If you have access to videoconference software, consider pointing the computer screen towards the kitchen as you prepare your baked creation. If you are making cookies, be sure to send a good portion in your next care package!

Dr. Ginsburg emphasizes loving our kids unconditionally and our kids knowing we aren't going anywhere. Taking the time to do some of these things can help your kids stay connected to their deployed parent and help foster these feelings in our kids.


What are your suggestions to stay connected to a deployed parent?


To learn more strategies visit Dr. Ginsburg's website.


Resource: Building Resilience in Children and Teens: Giving Kids Roots and Wings by Kenneth Ginsburg, MD, MS Ed, FAAP published by American Academy of Pediatrics 2011