Helping Military Parents Set the Stage for a Great Homecoming

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first_imgEncourage parents to maintain as “normal” a child care schedule as possible for their younger children in the days surrounding the homecoming. Young children will be comforted and reassured by the predictability of the familiar child care environment.Expect to see changes in children’s behavior at child care and offer them predictability, support and extra attention and affection. Keep communication with the parents open while their children cope with the changes and excitement of homecoming.Beyond the Photo OpThe reuniting of a family after deployment is one of those moments – like Christmas or a wedding – that we all want to be picture perfect! But reintroducing young children to a parent whom they’ve not been with for a long time is a process, not just a moment captured on camera. You can do a LOT to help military parents plan a homecoming that takes into account the needs of their youngest children and, as a result, will be memorable in all the best ways! If you like watching videos of military homecomings, you are going to love this fall!! With thousands of troops scheduled to return from Afghanistan in the coming weeks and months, families with young children will want to capture on video that magic moment when Mom or Dad reunites with the children they’ve missed so much.  The hugs, the kisses, the tears of joy, the smiles…and there will be many new videos that show just that.But the truth is the magical moment doesn’t always work out quite that way, especially with very young children. There will be plenty of unshared videos – not to mention feelings of hurt and disappointment – because a child’s reaction was caution or fear, crying instead of smiles, and nothing at all like parents had expected.As a child care provider for military families, you can help prepare parents to have realistic expectations for those first moments when the returning parent is together again with his or her children.Ready or….NOT!!So what can you share with parents that will help them have realistic expectations for a reunion with a parent who has been absent for an extended period of time?This homemade homecoming video from YouTube is a great illustration of how children’s ages significantly affect their response to seeing a parent who has been gone for many months. Notice the different reactions of the three children (it’s a bit easier to focus with the sound off). There’s quite a difference between what appear to be a 7-year-old, a 3-year-old, and a toddler!  And while some of that difference in responses might reflect differences in the kids’ temperaments, it mostly reflects developmental differences. With age comes:More in-person experiences with their parent in the pastA better understanding of the difference between the mom or dad on a computer screen and “real life.”A greater emotional understanding of what it means to miss someone who is far away.Did you notice how cautious the toddler was? If we can grasp just how much she doesn’t understand about what’s going on, then we can appreciate why her response is to stand back, watch and listen.It’s important to remember that very young children understand their world through their senses and through physical experiences with their environment, including people. Although video communication technologies have helped to fill in the very large gap in physical experiences created when a parent is deployed, seeing and hearing Daddy on a small, flat computer screen is a VERY different experience than in the presence of the full-size, 3-D version of Daddy!Big Emotions: Contagious & ConfusingAnother element that can throw very young children for a loop is everyone else’s excitement and eager anticipation. While infants and toddlers don’t have the mental understanding to grasp what’s going on, they are like sponges when it comes to the emotional atmosphere of the people around them. They definitely know that everyone’s acting strange. But feeling the high emotional current, without understanding the situation, is confusing for most little ones, and downright frightening for others!The Element of SurpriseAnd then there’s the element of surprise. The oldest child in the video LOVED the surprise! The two younger children…not so much. There is definitely a direct relationship between enjoying a surprise and understanding what’s going on! A basic rule of thumb: the older the child, the more he or she will enjoy being surprised.Thankfully, the dad in the video is very patient and respectful of the time his young daughter and, to a lesser degree, the younger of his sons, need to grasp what’s going on before they are comfortable approaching him and giving him affection. If he or one of the other adults would have pushed either child into hugging Daddy, it might have resulted in tears or screams – definitely NOT the response anyone would want!5 Ways that You Can Help Reuniting FamiliesWhat can child care providers do to help make homecomings a joy for parents AND children?Talk with parents ahead of time about their children’s possible response. You know their children very well and will be able to provide helpful insight as they think through their homecoming event.Share tips for making it an enjoyable experience for everyone, including the youngest. For example, make sure a very young child has someone (Grandma or Auntie) who will be their security base from which he or she can observe while Mom, Dad and older children greet each other. Another suggestion is for the returning parent to get down on the floor at the child’s level and hold out a favorite toy (toys are toddlers’ favorite way of connecting with others!). Very concrete tactics such as these will be easy for parents to remember and use in the flurry of the moment.Share printed resources so that the parents can talk over them together. You might also encourage parents to share the resources with grandparents and others who may be pushing for a big, exciting homecoming production. Some of our favorite resources are:“Homecoming: Reconnecting After Separations”– from Zero To Three, specifically related to reconnecting with infants and toddlers.“Returning from the War Zone: A Guide for Families,” in both video and print formats, from the National Center for PTSD and the Dept. of Veterans Affairs. (This guide also provides lots of information and tips for the long process of adjusting to family life with the service member home.)center_img This blog post was written by Kathy Reschke, Child Care Leader at Military Families Learning Network.Source URL: /?p=1810last_img

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