Coping with the deployment of a loved one is a difficult task for anyone, but for a child, the situation can be especially scary and hard. Kids may question why their parents have to miss important events like holidays and birthdays, or worry whether or not Dad or Mom will return home safely.

Tarawa Terrance Elementary, located on a Marine base at Camp LeJeune in North Carolina, is one school that helps its students better understand a scary topic like deployment. Counselor Gregory Bole, a former Marine, meets with students frequently, offering advice, asking questions, and most importantly, listening to students as they discuss their feelings on deployment. In addition to the in-school counseling, many deployment support clubs are available for children.

According to a recent New York Times article, about a quarter of the 45,000 Marines stationed at Camp LeJeune are deployed at any given time.

SurvivingDeployment.com offers the following advice, based on suggestions from the American School Counselor Association and the National Association of School Psychologists:

  • Consistency and Routine – Above all else, kids need routine, consistency and structure during this time. They are feeling insecure because of all of the uncertainties regarding the deployment and they need a predictable routine and home life.
  • Good Communication – Kids often have a lot of questions during deployment. Daily, honest (yet age appropriate) discussions about feelings (yours and theirs) can help ease tension and relieve concerns.
  • Attention and Good Times – This is a great time to plan special events and start new hobbies. Children can feel neglected during deployments because one parent is gone and the other parent is busy and stressed. Children should have many opportunities to feel loved and special during the deployment.
  • Healthy Lifestyle – Not only do children need to have fun, but they need to be healthy. They should maintain healthy diets, have opportunities for exercise and not spend all their time in front of the TV.
  • To Be a Kid – Do not discuss your fears in depth with them, and do not expect them to take the place of your spouse. Also, be careful about how much exposure your child has to the news. When my husband was gone I was glued to CNN and only realized I needed to limit my TV watching when my four year old asked me, “Why is that building blowed up?”
  • Reassurance – In deployment situations children often feel a loss of control and stability; they have experienced a major change and could do nothing to prevent it from occurring. Reminding them that you will always love them no matter what and that you will survive this deployment together will help ease their anxiety.
  • A Good Behavior Plan – While it is important to understand that misbehavior during deployment can be a result of negative feelings, it is also important to set limits and have consequences. Parents can eliminate a lot of problems by making a chart and pre-determining consequences for specific behaviors. For example, if you don’t put your bike away, you will lose bike privileges for one day. Parents can also set up positive behavior controls such as sticker charts or marble jars.
  • Physical and Emotional Expressions of Love – Hugs, High Fives and “I Love You” go a long way in helping children cope with difficult situations.

Is deployment a situation that you have dealt with at your school? How do you help your students cope?