How do you prepare a toddler for deployment? I have learned there is a very simple answer to that question – you don’t.
You can try until you are blue in the face to explain why Daddy (or Mommy) is packing yet again, but I know my 22-month old doesn’t grasp a word of it. He simply sees Daddy leaving. Each time, we have has gone through a period of acting out, a period of nightmares and then finally a settling in to a routine.
My husband and I aren’t new to deployments, however, this is our first time with kids. I have done a lot of searching online, along with talking to other mothers who have been through a deployment with young children.
I have tried to come up with ideas to keep my oldest child from having too much separation anxiety, and ideas to help my youngest, who is just a few months old, know who Daddy is when he gets home.
Here are some ideas we’ve tried:
Take lots of pictures. We have a digital picture frame setup in the nursery, so I can change and update the pictures as much as possible. In my oldest child’s room, we have a photo mobile that hangs with multiple pictures on it.
Have Dad or Mom record themselves on a recordable book. This way, they can record their voice reading the book, and “read” the little ones a book, even when they aren’t home. We decided to also make a video of Daddy reading some of the boys’ favorite books, so they not only hear, but see him too! Another fun thing we did was letting our kids build a bear at the mall, then Dad recorded his voice inside the bear!
Plan for, and have holidays ahead of time. While Daddy is gone, he is going to be missing holidays and birthdays, including my oldest’s second birthday. I started planning his Hot Wheels themed birthday a little early, so Daddy could be a part of it. I made matching pit crew shirts for our family ahead of time so we could get one family picture with my husband’s family. We did the same setup with just our little family. Those pictures will be printed larger and setup during my son’s actual birthday party.
Leave voice messages on your phone. When my husband is gone, my oldest child thinks every time my phone rings, it is Daddy. Not knowing what his ability is going to be like to make phone calls, my husband will call my phone, and left messages for the boys. Instead of it being your standard message, it sounds like he is having a conversation. It allows me to pick up the phone anytime and let him ‘talk’ to daddy.
Make a “deployment wall.” You can really make this your own – whatever you child understands! We have clocks set to our local time, and to Dad’s timezone. We also have two mailboxes – one is for mail to Daddy for upcoming care packages, and the other holds the mail that comes from daddy, so it’s in a safe place. Beside those, we have a memory tree, which is formed by cutting out leaves each time we do something fun, writing the activity on the leaves, and hanging them for Daddy to see when he returns. We also make sure to have a countdown of some kind – so the kids can see how close it’s getting for Dad’s return!
There are a lot of wonderful resources out there to find ideas on keeping your children connected with their soldier. These are just a few of the ideas that I have come up with and it seems like every day there is something new that I add to the list!
What do you do in your household to prepare your toddlers and young children for a parent’s deployment?
Guest Post by Mindy King, military spouse