On Nov. 3, the Family Development Early Intervention team held a webinar in which we discussed how professionals could work with families to promote parent-child interactions. A recording of that webinar can be found here. During the webinar, questions arose regarding how a professional might help strengthen the parent-child relationship when that parent is deployed. Here are a few strategies to consider:
- Build A Stuffed Animal That Talks!
When my husband was preparing to deploy when our daughter was four, he recorded a message for her on a device that we tucked inside a teddy bear she made. This was something she treasured throughout that deployment and even still today, seven years later! There are commercial stores where one can buy the recorders and even make the teddy bears. However, the supplies also can be purchased through online retailers.
- Use Instant Technology!
During my husband’s most recent absence we used technology that allowed me to quickly send him pictures and videos of our children. He was able to access these items in almost real time. The kids loved hearing me read back their dad’s responses to whatever funny thing they had just done.
- Child Directed Videos!
If children are old enough, give them access to your phone or digital recording device and allow them to create a video diary for their deployed parent. Some older children can be savvy enough to produce really impressive videos!
- Read Together!
Make use of the program United Through Reading (UTR), through which service members can create a video of themselves reading a book for their child. Find out how UTR works and how to participate today!
- Make Use of the Moon and Stars!
For young children it can be hard to understand how far away their parent is during a deployment. Some children may feel like they are worlds or planets away! With my children, they always felt very connected to their dad when they would focus on the moon or the stars at night. When one of them was having a particularly sad night and really missing him, we would look out the window or even go outside and stare at the sky. We would talk about how bright a star looked or the shape of the moon and I would remind them that their dad was looking at the same stars and moon. It helped to shrink that distance for them and they felt more connected to him even though they couldn’t see or touch him.
When possible celebrate holiday or birthday moments together with the deployed parent ‘present’ via online videos. Sometimes this can be done live, but at other times deployed parents can record themselves singing happy birthday to their children. ‘Snail mail’ also will do the trick in helping children connect with their deployed parents. My children really enjoyed receiving gifts and cards from their dad when he was gone. Some years he asked me to buy the kids something very specific and give it to them for Christmas — just from him. I would make a very big deal out of that gift being specifically from their dad. The kids never knew (nor asked) if I had bought it or if he had sent it but they treasured whatever it was because it was from him.
This is not an exhaustive list, but rather a few simple ways you can encourage your families to remain connected despite geographical separations. What other ideas do you have? What have you recommended or seen? What has worked? What hasn’t worked? We’d love to hear from you in the comments box below!
This post was edited by Robyn DiPietro-Wells & Michaelene Ostrosky, PhD, members of the OneOp FD Early Intervention team, which aims to support the development of professionals working with military families. Find out more about OneOp FD concentration on our website, on Facebook, on Twitter, and YouTube.