Defence / Military children go through many emotions during each phase of this separation. The lead up phase, initial phase, the long haul and the end phase.
The Lead Up Phase
During this phase the defence child may seem lost and the heightened emotions may begin. The defence family home during this time becomes unsettled as the member prepares for deployment. The lounge room floor or garage becomes a logistics nightmare and a constant reminder of what is happening. There will be webbing, packs, boots, uniforms, helmets, safety equipment, socks, hootchie, sleeping gear, gloves and a mountain of other required gear spread from one end to the other – this to be honest feels like a punch in the stomach every time you look at it. You are reminded of the length of the deployment and the unknown of what can happen during this time. It is a natural emotion to feel concerned and unfortunately, the ‘what if’s’ take over.
During this phase the defence child may have heightened emotions leading to outbursts with anger, frustration or complete sadness as they begin to settle in to everyday activities without the member at home. From a change of who drops them off at school, who packs their lunches, who picks them up at the end of the day, who takes them to what activities during the weekend and the night time routine. This can be very hard for all the family to manage and with older children, expectations can be hard to handle to.
The Long Haul
Some days are much easier than others. A routine at home has settled and the ‘norm’ for the family is running as smooth as it can and a countdown to the end as begun. At times you will find the defence child’s emotions can change quiet quickly – in fact it is sometime similar to dealing with grief. The child may be experience a great day, laughed really hard at something and then remembered that they can’t share it with dad that afternoon at pick up – this may lead from laughter to tears or anger.
During the long haul, it is important to talk to the child about what they are feeling, giving them the opportunity to speak about it or the chance to sit down and record what they are feeling or what has happened during their day. The chance to draw or write a quick letter or jot it down in their journal is so important.
The End Phase
The last four weeks of a deployment are another time for heightened emotion. The countdown has begun and more concerns become apparent. The excitement builds, the frustration of time builds, the concern of changes occurring again at home. As with all things Military, the planned date for the homecoming can change regularly. It is important that the child is prepared for this change and I would encourage you to mindful of this as homecoming becomes close – dates can change several times. Once the parent is home, reintegration begins. For some families this is simple and things return to how it was, for others, reintegration can be more difficult. A change in routine, a change in parenting styles can all lead to further emotional outbursts.
It is important that their emotions, feeling, concerns are all validated – it is no excuse for bad behaviour, but please remember these children are under an enormous amount of emotional pressure that at times will come to a head at school.
These are my own words from my own experience and from working with Defence / Military Kids who have been through the phases mentioned above.