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Coping with Separation

service member hugging his children

Source: MIARNG photo by Staff Sgt Helen Miller

Any military-related separation can be tough for the entire family and may be especially hard on children. The good news is that you and your family can work together to help your children cope during each stage of the separation in a positive way.

Before Separation

Prepare children for a separation. This will help them become a part of the decision-making process and build trust within your family. You are encouraged to:

  • Start a conversation with your children about their concerns and respond with information that is easy to understand.
  • Set clear expectations for how your family will keep in touch with you while you’re away. Discuss ways for children to share important information such as report cards and major life events.
  • Schedule quality time together as a family and alone with each child before separation. Consider making a list of activities with your child that you can do together before you leave. Examples include:
    • Record a favorite book so that your child can hear your voice.
    • Mark a calendar with birthdays, holidays and the homecoming day.
    • Create a picture collage of you and your child.

During Separation

Both the parent or caregiver at home and the parent who is away can take steps to help children cope during a separation.
The parent or caregiver at home is encouraged to:

  • Continue talking about the parent who is away and answer any questions your children have.
  • Keep a routine and continue family traditions.
  • Create a strong network of extended family, friends and members of the military community for support.
  • Work with your children’s educators to respond to any behavior changes at school.

The parent who is away is encouraged to:

  • Stay in touch as much as possible. Be clear about when you expect to write or talk on the phone.
  • Share positive stories about your mission and avoid stressful topics.
  • Send home mementos such as pictures, letters, videos or small gifts.
  • Celebrate important dates such as birthdays and holidays with your children.

After Separation

It can take families six months to a year to fully reintegrate after a separation. Take the time you need to rebuild family connections. You are encouraged to:

  • Discuss how tasks were done at home during the separation and decide which routines, rules and discipline methods will now be in place.
  • Be patient and respect your children’s privacy while giving them time to readjust.
  • Ask your children what the separation experience was like for them and listen carefully to their responses.
  • Find out about the new things in your children’s lives and praise their successes.

Reach Out for Help

Planning ahead and having open communication can help your children cope with separation in a healthy way. Don’t hesitate to reach out for help if you find it hard to support your children’s emotional needs. Contact the DCoE Outreach Center to speak confidentially with trained health resource consultants 24/7. You can call 866-966-1020, use the Real Warriors Live Chat or email resources@dcoeoutreach.org.

Additional Resources

Last Reviewed: 04/27/15
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