Friday, July 15, 2011

Helping Families through Military Deployment

The deployment of guard and reserve service members in the last 10 years has affected families in all of our communities. Sometimes we may not know that a neighbor is struggling with the absence of a parent, spouse or loved one and may miss opportunities to reach out and help them during this difficult time. Just like there are stages of grief, the call to active duty is divided into pre-deployment, deployment and post-deployment or reintegration stages. All are stressful for children and parents. Families who live on military installations have many others around them who understand their situation and can give support. However, children of reservists may not know any other military children and may not totally understand what deployment means.

Children may demonstrate many reactions to military deployment of a parent depending on the age of the child. They may have more aggressive behavior, temper or outbursts. They may experience changes in sleeping or eating habits, feel sad and depressed, feel resentment towards the deployed parent, have mood swings and have problems in school, just to mention a few common reactions.

As a friend or relative of an affected family, there are some ways that you can help during this stressful time. It is important for the family to maintain routines and schedules – the single parent may need help with transporting children to activities or meeting the bus. It is also important to provide opportunities for children to be distracted from the stress of deployment – short trips, sharing hobbies and offering fun activities might be a way to provide some relief for families. Giving children a chance to talk about their feelings and communicate freely is important. Sometimes this can be done through art, pretend play or stories for younger children. Helping with occasional chores around the house is another great way to offer assistance.

It is also important for the children to retain a sense of connectedness between them and the deployed parent. Sending care packages, artwork, letters, photo albums are good ways to keep this attachment intact.

Pennsylvania has the nation’s highest number of National Guard troops and the third largest number of all personnel serving in the military effort, most of whom serve in a reserve capacity. Why not reach out to see if you can make a difference in the lives of some of these families?


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