Resources for families with children
- Ten Tips for a Positive Reunion
- Communicating with Children
- Kids out of control?
- Kids' reactions to reunions
- Age specific resource guides
TEN TIPS FOR PARENTS FOR A POSITIVE REUNION
Source: Dr. (Col.) Tom Hardaway,
Chief of the Dept. of Behavioral Medicine, Brooke Army Medical Center, Fort
Sam Houston, TX
- Know the expectations of the returning warrior. Knowing the
expectations of the returning parent is important in every family. While
you likely have expectations of what you and your returning spouse will do
together again, as do the children, take a moment to step back and think
where your returning spouse is coming from. He/she has been in a constant
state of deprivation, hot and uncomfortable climate, strained sleeping
conditions, sand everywhere, day after day without leave or weekend breaks.
In addition, food has been monotonous, and your spouse has likely been
exposed to the loss of or injury to fellow compatriots. There has been the
constant threat of loss of life or injury to self. What has kept the
warrior going is the feeling that the cause is just, concern about family
back home, a very close connection with fellow soldiers, and thought after
thought of regaining the things available at home.
- Do not be surprised at expectations of entitlement: Just as you may not
have been quite aware of your spouse’s expectations, do not be surprised or
hurt that initially, your spouse may have spoken or unspoken expectations of
entitlement. Returning spouses’ feelings are that they have laid down
everything for several sustained months in the conditions described above,
and that those at home are just waiting to "make it up to them". They may
seem to be oblivious to your expectations and desires at first. It is
important not to take this personally, or as a sign that they have no
concerns about the family’s desires or expectations.
- Be aware of your own expectations: It is likely that you have had to
bear an extremely large burden in the absence of your spouse, in caring as a
single parent for children, attending to responsibilities in the home
previously performed by your spouse, and may have had to endure many
hardships and crises that you knew would not be helpful to share with your
spouse in phone or e-mail conversations. You and your family may have
"reconfigured" a little to remain stable, and may have established some
newly found independence, perhaps with the finances. Perhaps there are now
some new routines and rules in the home. Your expectation may be that your
spouse would be pleased and congratulatory at your ability to do this.
- Be aware that you and/or your children may have mixed feelings, which is
normal. It is most usual for families to be very excited and happy
about a returning soldier. But they also may have some anxiety or
apprehension. There may have been pre-existing conflicts in the home, which
most likely remained unsettled during the deployment. Children may feel
that they have not been attentive enough in communicating with their
deployed parent, or may have been acting up in their absence, or may have
done poorly in school. They may be worried that the returning parent may be
angry. Spouses may be concerned that they may lose some of their new
independence, or that they may not have attended to the house or family well
enough; or that their returning spouse may intrude and "change things all
- Children may not act as expected or desired. Upon the return of the
deployed parent, children may behave in paradoxical fashion. At the first
moments of reunion, they may jump forward and embrace their parent, or, on
the other hand, may stand back and even be reticent at first. Very young
children may not remember their parent well, and may even treat that parent
as a stranger. It is important for both parents not to take this as a bad
sign or to take it personally. Different children may need help warming
back up, and it will only prolong that warming-up period if parents become
indignant or angry about their behavior. Some "wooing" by the returning
parent and coaching and encouragement by the other parent will help things
to become positive and warm again.
- Encourage your children to be aware of their expectations and worries, and
assist them in sharing them with you without fear of your reactions.
If they have concerns or worries, help them to understand these are normal,
and help them engage in problem solving. Reassure them as to the love that
their deployed parent has for them, and that if there are some problems to
be sorted out, that everyone will work to solve them. Encourage them to
suggest things they definitely want to do with their returning parent, and
prioritize these activities so that there will not be an onslaught of
expectations from the parent. Help the children to see ahead of time that
things will have to happen in order, and that the returning parent may not
be able to attend to all their desires right away.
- Try to share your and your children’s expectations and any concerns ahead of
time in your phone conversations prior to the returning spouse’s
redeployment home. Ask your returning spouses what they have in mind
for when they return home. Allow them to express the things they really
desire and miss, and encourage them to prioritize the most important
things. This will get them to be more consciously aware of their own
expectations. Then, share with your spouse what you hope will happen, and
help him/her to understand what some of your desires are and some of the
hopes and worries of the children. Keep these interactions in a positive
and anticipatory mode. An example might be: "Jeff can’t wait for you to get
home. He is a little worried that you might be upset with him about his
schoolwork, and about his behavior before you left. I told him that you
will be excited to see him no matter what, and if there are school issues to
work out, that we both will help him to get back on the tracks. How do you
feel about his worries?"
Or, "Rachel is just 16 months right now, and remember you’ve been gone for four months.
She says "Daddy", but she may still not act the way you expect.
Give her a little time, and I know she’ll be excited you’re home after awhile.
Hopefully, she’ll surprise us!"
- Help your children to understand that their returning parent may need some
alone time and not to perceive this negatively. Redeployed soldiers
have been living in a very intimate, close-knit unit, with little privacy.
Coming back to the home environment can be somewhat overwhelming, especially
with very excited children in the house. Help them anticipate that their
returning parent might need some "down" time and not necessarily always
respond to their desires for activities, etc.
- Be prepared that your spouse may not appear as sensitive to your
expectations as he/she should be. This is not necessarily a sign that
he/she doesn’t care, but understand that he/she may not behave exactly as
you have been anticipating many times over. This is a time when it is even
more important than usual to be explicit in what you are hoping for.
Waiting for him/her to get "your clues" right off may make you resentful,
and may make your spouse feel as if he/she is letting you down, leading to
further resentment. Use humor and don’t be afraid to talk directly. If
he/she feels that he/she has already let you down, he/she may not feel that
there is any way to correct the situation and may just become defensive.
Give lots of chances for your spouse to hear you, and let him/her know how
much you appreciate it when he/she exhibits the behavior you wanted. As
with children, you want to "encourage good behavior"!
- There are successful reunions, but no ideal ones. "Ideal" is something
that is only in fantasy. A mature and successful reunion is one
where all concerned are aware of their own desires and concerns, and aware
of those of their spouse and children. Along with the all the positive and
excited moments, there are the very natural feelings and problems that
require serious discussion and problem solving. The successful reunion
includes excited smiles, embraces, laughter, and humor. It also requires a
mature understanding that in order for the separation to be have been a
positive experience, we must give a lot of "slack" to each other, do a lot
of talking, a lot of planning and problem solving, and some forgiving.
Children should know when it is all said and done, that their parents both
love them now more than ever.
Suggestions for Improving Communication with Children
- Be interested. Ask about children’s ideas and opinions regularly. If you show your children that you are really interested in them they will respond.
- Avoid "dead-end" questions. Ask children the kinds of questions that will extend interaction rather than cut it off.
Avoid "yes" and "no" questions. Rather, ask children to describe, share, and explain.
- Extend conversation. Try to pick up a piece of your child’s conversation. Respond to his or her statements by asking a question that restates or uses some of the same words your child used. When you use children’s own phrasing or terms, you reinforce their confidence in their conversational and verbal skills, plus you reassure them that their ideas are being heard and valued.
- Share your thoughts. Share what you are thinking with your child. For instance, if you are puzzling over how to rearrange your furniture, get your child involved with questions such as, "I am not sure where to put this shelf. Where do you think would be the best place for it?"
- Observe signs. Watch the child for signs that it is time to end the conversation. When a child begins to stare into space, give silly responses, or asks you to repeat several of your comments, it is probably time to stop the exchange.
- Reflect feelings. One of the most important skills of a good listener is the ability to understand his or her thoughts and feelings. As a parent, try to mirror your children’s feelings by commenting, "It sounds as if you’re angry with your math teacher." Restating or rephrasing what children have said is useful when they are experiencing powerful emotions that they may not be aware of or understand.
AM I A GOOD LISTENER???
Kids Out of Control?
Have you ever watched in wonder at children who seem a bit "out of
control"? What can be done about this? Paul Chance, a writer for Psychology
Today quotes Jacob Azerrad, Ph.D., who has been a child psychologist for 35
years tells us…
Parents who have fallen into the habit of offering attention for
disagreeable behavior often have a hard time shifting their focus to
agreeable behavior. Over the years I have devised a simple procedure to help
parents do this. I call it the Nurture Response:
1. Be on the alert for behavior that indicates growing maturity: Taking
disappointment calmly, performing spontaneous acts of kindness and
demonstrating an interest in learning. When you see this kind of grown-up
behavior, make a mental note of it. Perhaps Margaret, who usually responds
to disappointments with a tantrum, is unperturbed when told her favorite
breakfast cereal is unavailable. Maybe Sam, who is typically selfish with
his belongings, shares his toys with the neighbor's child.
2. Some time later (anywhere from five minutes to five hours after the
event), remind the child of the behavior you observed. You might say, "Do
you remember when Harry's bike fell over and he couldn't straighten it
because it was too heavy for him? You went over and helped him. Do you
remember doing that?"
3. When you're sure the child remembers the event in question, praise her
for it. You might say, "It was very good of you to help Harry with his bike.
I'm proud of you." Often the highest praise you can offer children is to
tell them they acted like an adult. You might say, "I know you were
disappointed that you couldn't go to the mall, but you were very grown up
about it. I was impressed." Don't mix the praise with criticism. Don't say,
for example, "I was proud of the way you helped Harry; you're usually so
mean to him," or even, "I'm glad you were finally nice to Harry."
4. Immediately after praising the child, spend some time with him in an
activity he enjoys. Do this in a spontaneous way, without suggesting that it
is payment for the grown-up behavior. You might play a favorite game, go for
a walk, or read a story. Remember that nothing is more important to a child
than the undivided attention of a parent, so give the child your full
attention for these few minutes.
The nurture response is not a panacea, of course. Some dangerous or
extremely annoying forms of behavior, such as knocking other children down
or having screaming tantrums, may require additional measures, including
punishment. But it is amazing how much can be accomplished by simply
ignoring the behavior you don't want and noticing the behavior you do want.
For decades many child-rearing icons have urged parents to pay special
attention to troublesome behavior, to offer sympathy, understanding and
reassurance when children behave in outrageous ways. This view so pervades
our society that scarcely anyone questions it. Both common sense and
scientific evidence tell us, however, that this approach is bound to
backfire, and it does.
Parents should think of themselves as gardeners. A good gardener encourages
desirable plants and discourages undesirable ones. In the same way, a good
parent encourages desirable acts and discourages undesirable ones.
Do you want your children to be well-behaved and happy? Then ignore experts
who tell you to shower attention on children when they are badly behaved and
miserable. Remember that gardeners must nurture the flowers, not the weeds.
Children’s Reaction to Soldier’s Return
|Birth to 1 Year
- Pulls away from you
- Clings to spouse or caregiver
- Has problems with elimination
- Changes their sleeping and eating habits
- Does not recognize you
- Hold the baby, and hug him/her a lot.
- Bathe and change your baby; feed and play with him/her.
- Relax and be patient; he/she will warm up to you after a while.
|1 to 3 Years
- Does not recognize you
- Has temper tantrums
- Regresses—no longer toilet trained
- Don’t force holding, hugging, kissing.
- Give them space.
- Give them time to warm up.
- Be gentle and fun.
- Sit at their level.
|3 to 5 Years
- Demonstrates anger
- Acts out to get your attention; needs proof that you’re real
- Is demanding
- Feels guilty for making the parent go away
- Talks a lot to bring you up to date
- Listen to them.
- Accept their feelings.
- Play with them.
- Reinforce that you love them.
- Find out the new things on TV, at preschool, books.
|5 to 12 Years
- Isn’t good enough
- Dreads your return because of discipline
- Boasts about Army and parent
- Review pictures, schoolwork, activities, scrap books.
- Praise what they have done.
- Try not to criticize.
|13 to 18 Years
- Is excited
- Feels guilty because they don’t live up to standards
- Is concerned about rules and responsibilities
- Feels too old or is unwilling to change plans to accommodate parent
- Is rebellious
- Share what has happened with you.
- Listen with undivided attention.
- Don’t be judgmental.
- Respect privacy and friends.
- Don’t tease about fashion, music.
USAREUR Deployment and Reunion Guides for Children