Last week we introduced you to Project ADAPT—a first in the nation research project—focusing on the stress placed on military families during deployment, and how the University of Minnesota’s College of Education and Human Development is sharing this research to help the next generation of military families. This week we share some strategies used in Project ADAPT to help military families better cope with stress during uncertain times like deployment and reintegration.
Children face a variety of challenges at all stages of deployment, as they prepare for the absence of a parent, adapt to changes in the home and then re-adjust to the return of their parent months—or even a year—later. While all families deal with stress as a normal part of day-to-day life, when a parent is deployed for months or a year at a time, stress can take a greater toll on family members. Based on our ongoing research, we offer some support strategies and recommendations that we share with military families through Project ADAPT.
Ways to Help Kids Cope with Deployment
During times of uncertainty, children and parents benefit from the 3 Rs: routines, rules and rituals. Predictable routines like meal and study time allow families to engage in familiar activities, and may also reassure the deployed parent that she or he knows what’s happening at home even when they are not there to experience it. Clear rules and limits represent stability in the face of stress. Children thrive with boundaries. Family rituals like reading a bedtime story, or playing a bedtime story pre-recorded by the deployed parent provide a shared family narrative and constant series of events in family life. Structure provides reassurance and stability for children. The three R’s can help reestablish family equilibrium upon reintegration as well.
Other suggestions to help children cope with deployment include:
- Encourage Problem Solving: The problem solving process is a way to reduce children’s daily anxieties by boosting predictability and communication. For example, hold a family meeting to solve everyday conflicts in a cooperative manner.
- Listen to children’s worries: Sometimes, children (especially those who are school age or older) don’t share their worries for fear of further burdening the at-home parent. Listening to children and offering them a chance to raise concerns encourages parent-child discussions that can support children to cope with anxiety. In addition, media for children facing the deployment cycle can be very helpful. For example, the “Talk, Listen, Connect” Sesame Street Program is a bilingual educational outreach program specifically for military families.
- Minimize transitions: Transitions are anxiety provoking, and it’s important to minimize child transitions during deployment. For example, a parent may want to move children into a new school or daycare that is more convenient for life as a single parent, but this type of transition might be more stressful for the children.
In addition, Project ADAPT’s monthly newsletters are a great resource for military parents with all ages of children. A wide variety of topics are covered, including how to talk to your children about deployment, co-parenting from afar and preparing for reintegration. Every topic has four newsletters, each one targeted at a particular age group. You can sign up to receive the newsletter to your inbox. We’ve also compiled many online resources for military families on our site.
We have more than 100 families currently participating in the Project ADAPT study. If you want to get involved, visit Get Involved with ADAPT for requirements and information.
-Abi Gewirtz, Project Lead, Department of Family Social Science, CEHD
Learn more about our research in the “Helping military families through the deployment process” research manuscript.