Tag Archives: military kids

How to Prepare Young Kids for a Deployment

deployment-wallHow 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?

mindy-kingGuest Post by Mindy King, military spouse

Geo-Bachelorhood: Six months later

geobachelorEarlier this year, my family and I had a difficult decision to make. My husband had received orders that would take him to an installation about three hours from our home in Virginia. In the past, a new set of orders simply meant a new home town, no questions asked. We packed up the kids, said goodbye to friends and neighbors, and set off on our new adventure.

This time, however, we paused. We worried about the effect of moving the kids now that they are in middle and high school. We wondered if we would be able to sell our house or find a renter. And I asked myself if my career would ever recover if I had to give up yet another job. So after a lot of discussion and a lot of soul-searching, we decided that – for now at least – the kids and I would stay behind and my husband would become a geo-bachelor.

Now, it’s six months later, and while we’ve had our good days and our bad days, on the whole we’re managing. While I would never say that we have everything figured out, we have learned a few lessons over the past few months that have made geo-bachelorhood more bearable.

When we decided the kids and I would not move to the new installation, I worried about how I would manage everything on my own. Surprisingly, though, that hasn’t been our biggest challenge. As an experienced military family, we are accustomed to long separations, the kids and I slid easily back into our old routines. Every weekend, however, those routines were upended when my husband came home. It took a while for all of us to adjust our expectations and learn to enjoy our time together.

The first lesson I had to learn was to give Dad some down time. After a week of holding down the fort single-handedly, it’s tempting to meet him at the door with a honey-do list in one hand and the carpool schedule in the other. In fact, my husband jokes that I seem to think he comes home just to walk the dog and take out the garbage. And it’s true that when he’s home the kids and I are more than happy to let him handle some of the household chores that we take on in his absence.

But, although it’s easy for me to forget while I’m juggling kids, work, and housework, my husband’s schedule is demanding too and he deserves a chance to relax a little bit on the weekend. Raking the leaves can wait (for a while, at least)!

Another challenge has been fitting in family time. Our kids are busy with friends and activities. Between soccer games, sleepovers, and babysitting gigs, we sometimes found that a weekend had passed and Dad had barely seen one or both of the kids. We’re pleased the kids have so many friends and so much to keep them busy – it’s part of the reason we chose to stay here, after all – but time with Dad is important too.

We try to find time for him to spend one-on-one with each of the kids, even if they’re just riding along with him on a quick trip to the store. It also helps that he makes an effort to stay connected to the kids even when he can’t be here. Regular phone calls and texts throughout the week let the kids know that Dad is still involved in their lives even though he can’t be here every day.

Like so many aspects of life in the military, geo-bachelorhood isn’t easy. We were faced with a difficult choice, and are trying to do what’s right for our family. Some days are easier than others, and there are certainly times when I second guess our decision. So far, we’re making it work. We’ll see where we are this time next year!

Are you navigating geo-bachelorhood? What are your tips?

eileenPosted by Eileen Huck, Government Relations Deputy Director

Surviving the Mid-Year School Transition

mid-year-school-transitionA few years ago, I attended a Military Child and Education Coalition (MCEC) seminar held at Fort Drum. “Things are finally getting more manageable,” I thought on my drive to the event. A thought I distinctly remember. After surviving multiple deployments, five moves, an infant with colic, a toddler who resisted the car seat’s five point harness like a ferocious wild animal, my life as a mom finally seemed to be smoothing out. Both kids were sleeping through the night, I was down to one child in diapers. My daughter was approaching kindergarten. I’m a little ashamed to admit, I viewed it as a sort of parole.

I was thinking to the future, confident that I could handle anything now that I was enjoying a solid 6 hours of sleep per night.

Not so fast.

The challenges weren’t ending, they were simply shifting – something the MCEC workshop taught me to recognize. Sure, I would be more well-rested, but with my daughter entering school, each move would present a whole new set of issues. Fortunately, there are a variety of organizations that have worked to facilitate school transitions for military kids.

As I mentioned, MCEC holds workshops to help parents and kids with the challenges of switching schools. The Interstate Compact has addressed many of the academic hurdles that occur when families move from state to state, and School Liaison Officers are available to answer questions about your new school district and its requirements.

Walking away from the MCEC workshop, I was pretty sure I could manage the academic issues related to moving. What really concerned me were the social challenges my kids would face. We were fortunate that our next two moves coincided with summer break and my daughter was just one of many new military kids starting the academic year at her new school. Unfortunately, our last PCS did not, and we were forced to confront the dreaded mid-year school transfer.

Shortly after arriving at our new school this past April, I volunteered to chaperone the kindergarten field trip. I arrived a little early to find my son’s class outside for recess. Kids were running around everywhere and it took me awhile to spot my son. He was sitting on a curb, by himself, making a small pile of dirt. When I approached him and asked what he was doing, he told me he was making a house for his pals, the ants.

My heart broke.

If there is one thing I’ve taken away from the many Army resiliency trainings I’ve dutifully attended, it is that the key to managing this military lifestyle is to optimize the things you have the ability to influence, and try to make the best of everything else.

Leaving old friends and routines is hard. Making new friends and fitting into a new school can be even harder. As much as you’d like, you probably won’t be able to arrange for a new best friend to be waiting at your child’s new school. However, our recent experience showed me the importance of identifying key things to make the experience a little smoother.

I wasn’t always successful, but I want to share my lessons learned in the hope that it might help during your next move:

Contact your child’s teacher before his or her first day of school. Use this opportunity to introduce yourself and make sure the teacher is prepared for your child’s arrival. Your military kid will feel much more welcome if there is a desk, cubby, coat hook and school supply box waiting for him or her.

Ask for any booklets or documents on classroom policy or routines. Most teachers, particularly in the younger grades, distribute something at the beginning of the year. Are there any special folders or a day planner your child will need for homework? Understanding how these systems work will help your military kid get into the new routine.

Learn where to find the most accurate school calendar. I mistakenly assumed the calendar on our school’s website was up to date until I showed up at 11:30am for an early dismissal only to discover that it was a full day. In most cases, you can check with your child’s school administrative office to find an updated calendar.

Make sure your name is added to all school distribution lists. I regularly receive emails from the school’s main office, the teacher, and the PTO. Does your child’s classroom have a room parent? My son’s class has six (yes, that’s 6!) room moms. You need to ensure that each of these volunteers adds you to her distribution list, or you might miss the email to send in items for a craft project or show and tell.

Be sure you understand, and are incorporated into, your new school’s emergency communication system. Okay, that tip isn’t going to smooth your child’s transition, but it may ease your own peace of mind. In the unlikely event that something should happen at your school, or in your neighborhood, you don’t want to be wondering how the school will provide you with updates.

Does your child’s school have any special programs that are unique to it and, if so, how might your military kid be impacted? Our new school’s PTO runs a hot dog lunch fundraiser on Thursdays. I signed up my kids at the front office but, unfortunately, word of the new additions did not travel to the cafeteria. Much confusion ensued when my kindergartener showed up looking for a hot dog. He was sent to the office to eat the “nurse’s lunch” which I eventually learned is a variety of shelf stable snacks she keeps on hand for kids who forget their lunch. I count this as my biggest fail and wish I had taken the time to learn more about Hot Dog Day to ensure it went smoothly.

Consider volunteering at the school as often as you can. For you, it will provide an opportunity to meet other parents. For established families, it allows them to put a face to your name. After spending a day with my daughter’s class and many of their moms, one of them realized that she didn’t see our name on an email list inviting families to a special event for 2nd graders. She tracked down my contact info and called to tell me about it. I was grateful that she thought of us and I’m not sure that would have happened had we not met while volunteering.

Recently, I picked my son up at school for a dental appointment to a chorus of kids shouting his name and asking when he’d be returning. It was such a relief to see that he has been embraced by his new classmates. While I wouldn’t want to repeat it, we seem to have survived our mid-school year move and learned a few things in the process.

Have you experienced a mid-year school transition? What are your lessons learned? What advice would you give to families facing a mid-year PCS?

karen-rPosted by Karen Ruedisueli, Government Relations Deputy Director

Send Holiday Cheer to Service Members!

The holiday season is in full swing, and while most of us are keeping the home front warm and cozy, we remember the brave men and women who are protecting our Nation at home, and abroad. No one wishes for peace on Earth more than military families. While we can’t make every wish come true, we can support the ones who wish. Join us this holiday season, in sending well wishes to our service members.

During the month of December, we’d like to feature you and your service member by allowing you to share a holiday message with them. Do you know someone who could use some holiday cheer? Deployed, or at home, let us help you share your love and gratefulness to a service member! Kids can join in, too!

spc-verlanderDear SPC Verlander,

You know all we want for Christmas is you. Well, Christmas is just going to have to come a little late for us, but that’s OK. We don’t care if it’s December or August. It just won’t be Christmas for us without you, but we’ll be brave while everyone else celebrates. We miss you and cannot wait for you to come home! So proud of you babe! Love you so very much!!

-Mandi

Share your message by emailing it to us at blog@militaryfamily.org. Feel free to send a picture of the service member you’re writing to! ‘Tis the season!

Shannon-SebastianPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Online Engagement Manager

OP Bear’s Visit to Operation Purple Camp Sandy Cove

Tim-Neilson---camp-sandy-cove-(5)My journey to Operation Purple Camp Sandy Cove with Association employees Karen Cook and Simmone Quesnell started out early on a dreary, rainy day. I was a bit worried about going to a new camp and meeting everyone.

As we arrived at Camp Sandy Cove, located snugly in the hills of West Virginia, the sun started to peak out and the fog cleared away. What a relief! A wet, foggy day might not stop a military kid at camp, but it would have left me feeling like one sad, soggy teddy bear.

We were greeted by camp Director Tim Nielson and camp Programs Director Tim Glass, who made my stay a fun one, for sure! They introduced us to all the “Chiefs,” (who I think are really camp counselors), along with all the campers and the rest of the staff.

Before the campers and Chiefs went off for their activities, we got to speak to the campers, and, boy, I loved that! We were able to tell them how excited we were to be at camp with them and how important military kids are to us!
I posed for pictures with the campers, and some told me about themselves. One girl said she was nervous about coming to camp, but once she arrived and settled in, she made a bunch of new friends! Hooray!

Other campers wrote special notes in my journal! Let me share a couple of them:

“Camp is amazing! I am so glad I was given the opportunity to attend. Thank you so much!” -Emma

“Coming to camp gives you the opportunity to let loose and make new friends who may be in the same position as you. The camp is for everyone!” -Jordan

simmone-and-op

Later that day, I helped groom a horse named Butter Cup! Then, one of the young boys let me use his mountain board – a skateboard with all-terrain wheels – and I went lightning fast down a hill! Of course, I was told how to do it safely by the “Chief” in charge.

I even got to fly on the trapeze with Simmone!

What a great day! Not only did I get to meet campers and get lots of hugs, but I also heard some pretty amazing stories of how military kids serve too!

After a great Operation Purple Camp visit, we arrived home to the Association headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia. A few days later, at the Compass Rose Charities auction, I went off to my new and loving home for a $6,500 donation! The proceeds will pay for lots of kids to go to Operation Purple Camps in the future! Hip! Hip! Hooray!

op-bearPosted by OP Bear, with help from Karen Cook, Volunteer Services Coordinator, North Region

Survey Says: Military Families Needed!

081304-20641-Sigelman-NMFA-Recruitment-Material-for-Military-Families-Communication-ProjectIt seems as though we are always being asked to participate in a survey. Amazon wants to know how your online shopping experience was. Your cable provider is looking to see that their customer service representative was polite and helpful, and they want you to tell them all about it.

Military families often find themselves being asked to answer surveys. We get official ones from the Department of Defense, like the Millennium Cohort Study, which collects data to evaluate the health of service personnel throughout their military careers. Families also may participate in customer satisfaction surveys to determine if you were happy with Moral, Welfare and Recreation Programs, Department of Defense Education Activity schools, or services provided by your family support center.

Organizations like the National Military Family Association send out surveys to determine what we should advocate for, or how we should shape our programs to better serve military families.

We have used surveys effectively throughout the war to help us determine what type of support military families need, and how to craft the curriculum for our Operation Purple camps.

We often publicize surveys that focus on military family issues to help entities like universities, or other large organizations, provide services or programs for the military community. One such survey was a Military Spouse Employment Survey conducted by the Military Officers Association of America and Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families.

This anonymous survey provided a platform for military spouses to share their challenges of employment while on active duty to better understand military spouse unemployment and underemployment.

Sometimes the experiences of military families provide a small piece of the puzzle which adds insight into an issue that affects families outside the military as well.

We’ve been asked by a team of researchers at The George Washington University to promote an online study they are conducting called the Military Family Communication Project. Their goal is to identify ways in which couples, parents, and children can communicate to help them maintain close relationships and good adjustment during separations.

We are trying to reach at-home parents, step-parents, or child caregivers in families with at least one child age 18 or under, and a parent who is currently deployed or away on assignment.

If your family is interested in helping with this study, the at-home parent/child caregiver should email GWU.Military.Families@gmail.com. You will receive an email with more about the study and a link to the survey.

This study can help GWU identify best practices and tips for communicating which all families experiencing long separations could find useful.

We like to say that military families know they are part of something bigger than themselves. Participating in surveys can help shape programs and services not only for military families, but for families all over the country.

Pencils ready? Begin.

kathyPosted by Kathleen Moakler, Government Relations Director

FAQ Series: Domestic Violence Awareness month

domestic-violence1October is a national Domestic Violence Awareness month and a time to remind military families about the available prevention resources in your community. As a mobile population, military families may not be familiar with navigating local resources or know where to go for help.

If you’re the victim of domestic abuse, you may have thought for months or years about leaving the relationship. But leaving is scary, and it’s hard to do. Victims often feel trapped and very much alone. They may fear for their own and their children’s safety. Or they’re financially dependent on the abuser and may have no means of support. Within military families, victims are also likely to be far from their support system of family and friends back home.

Victims who need to get out of an abusive relationship can get support from the military, but they also need help and encouragement from friends, relatives, co-workers and trusted professionals. With planning and support, you can build a healthy and safe new life for yourself and your children.

Q: How do I come up with a safety plan?
A: Contact the Family Advocacy Program (FAP) office on your installation to request a victim advocate. A victim advocate can give you information about reporting options and services for victims, including help finding a shelter or other safe place to go. Once you have a safe place to go, talk to trusted friends or family members about the situation. Come up with a code word or signal so that confidant knows when to call for help. Go over safety plans with your children. Teach your children how to call 911 if they need help. Most importantly, plan ahead in case you need to leave on short notice. Gather important documents in one place, preferably away from where you live.

Q: Are there any legal actions I can take?
A: You can get a restraining order or Military Protective Order (MPO) to discourage your spouse from returning home, entering your place of work, or contacting your children. A restraining order or MPO can usually be extended to child-care centers or providers. Remember that neither a restraining order nor an MPO will prevent your spouse or partner from returning home or entering your workplace, but it does make it illegal for him or her to do so. Contact an attorney or court advocate specializing in domestic abuse. He or she can explore custody, visitation, and divorce provisions to protect you and your children. Your Legal Assistance Office can help you obtain legal information and provide general guidance. For issues such as child custody and divorce proceedings, they will refer you to legal services in the civilian community.

Q: I feel like no one understands the situation. Where can I turn for help?
A: Find your local FAP office by using the locator at Military INSTALLATIONS or calling your installation operator or Family Support Center. Call a domestic abuse hotline. They are available twenty-four hours a day at the National Violence Hotline (888-799-SAFE [7233]) and can help you find shelter, counseling, support groups, job training, and legal assistance in your area. Utilize any support group you can. While you may feel alone, many others have also suffered domestic abuse. By joining a domestic abuse support group, you’ll gain strength and support from being around them.

(Source: http://www.militaryonesource.mil/monthly-focus?content_id=266708)