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Kids Serve Too: Helping Children Cope: Episode 033 - Transcript

 

Air Date: April 10, 2013

 

Like the adults in a family, children are often affected by deployments and may need the support of those around them to cope with related stress and other challenges.

 

NARRATOR:

This is Real Warriors—Real Advice.

Children of all ages may have questions and concerns about what their parent will face during a deployment and how the family will cope while they are away. Parents and other adults can take several steps to help ease such concerns. First, try to talk about an upcoming deployment gradually and when the child seems comfortable having the discussion. Avoid talking about it all at once to prevent more confusion and anxiety. Listen carefully to your child's questions and ask what he or she would like to know if direct questions are not forthcoming. Be honest with your answers, but use a level of detail appropriate for each child's age and maturity level. Let your children know that you love them and will be thinking about them throughout your deployment, and that, when able, you will be in touch with phone calls and emails as much as possible. Explain, though, that sometimes communications will be sporadic due to the environment you'll be in and that not hearing from you for a while does not mean that something is wrong.

Let your children know that you will be doing an important job while deployed, so that they can better understand why you'll be away and what you will be doing. Army Col. Daniel Pinnell used this approach with his young children before deploying to Iraq and found that it helped them cope better with his absence.

COL. DANIEL PINNELL:

My children, when I deployed, were 6 and 11, and I had been open with them all during my career about what daddy did, that it was risky, and here's why I'm going anyway. Not telling them to worry about it, in fact the opposite, and I think that helped. And neither of them, frankly, worried during my deployment. They heard from me periodically and when they didn't, they didn't stress out, they knew what I was doing and I kept them informed.

NARRATOR:

When you return home, children and other family members will likely want to know about your deployment experience. Keep in mind that they'll ask about it because they care and are curious, not because they're trying to pry. Again, be open and honest, even if it's to tell them that you need some time before talking about it. If that's the case, let them know that you'll open up when you're ready and that you may only share small pieces of your story at first. If you find that your deployment experiences are especially hard to cope with—and, perhaps, you also have symptoms of combat stress, such trouble sleeping, flashbacks or depression—it is important to talk with someone about it, such as a chaplain, line leader, fellow warrior or psychological health professional. Invisible wounds need care, just like physical ones, and can get worse if you don't reach out for care or support. Col. Pinnell found that keeping his wife and children informed about his feelings and experiences after deployment helped everyone in the family feel better—especially him.

COL. DANIEL PINNELL:

Same thing when I came home, that openness is absolutely critical. It's got to be openness without the gore, without the bravado, without a lot of the unnecessary color commentary; just, "Here's kind of what I've been through and here's what I'm feeling." With my son, especially because he's older, I would tell him the same thing I told my wife, "Hey, son, I don't feel good today, I'm frustrated about some things, and I'm remembering some bad incidents," and he would keep an eye on me. And during the day, if he saw me being down, he'd step up on a chair, throw an arm around my shoulder and say, "How you feeling, dad?" And when it was appropriate I'd share it with him – what I was thinking and where we went – and all of that is part of feeling better.

NARRATOR:

The more you know about your children's concerns, the easier it will be to help them adjust and ease their anxieties. The Real Warriors Campaign website has additional information about helping children and families cope with deployment-related stress, including the articles, "Preparing Children for Deployment," "Helping Toddlers to Preteens Communicate about Changes" and "April is the Month of the Military Child." Along with these articles, you can find out more about psychological health concerns and how you or someone you know can get needed support by accessing information and resources 24/7 at realwarriors.net or by calling 866-966-1020. If you or someone you love is having thoughts of suicide or experiencing a psychological health crisis, contact the Military Crisis Line at 800-273-8255 and press 1.

In an earlier podcast, we asked listeners to offer their advice about how warriors and family members can best help children understand and cope with deployments and reintegration. Tips included: Keep up with the news they get from the media and be informed. Don't let them run with rumors. Be their go-to person at all times. And, give them an outlet to express their frustrations or anger about the deployment.

Looking ahead to future podcasts, we want to hear from you, our listeners. Every month we will feature tips from Real Warriors Campaign podcast subscribers, Facebook fans and Twitter followers. So, sound off. What tips would you share with peers for coping with stress? Post your thoughts under Episode 33 at realwarriors.net/podcasts. You can also find and subscribe to Real Warriors podcasts on iTunes.

This is Real Warriors—Real Advice.

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