Monthly Archives: August 2011

Military Deployment: 9 Techniques for Supporting Children

(Article first published as Military Deployment: Nine Ways to Support Your Children on Technorati.)

Not since World War II have so many children been faced with the challenge of having a parent deployed for military service. These are tough times for families.

In my practice I have found that it is helpful for parents to have a roadmap of sorts to follow during this period of uncertainty. After all, it is the parents that are the drivers of the family unit, and need to know how to prepare for the curves, bumps and obstacles in the road. My suggestion is to make a copy of whatever tips that work for you. Put this list in a place where you can read it each day. Add other suggestions to this list that you find from other sources, until you are satisfied that the needs of your family are being addressed.

1. Anticipate regression. Children may behave younger than they actually are. A child that is fully potty trained may start having accidents. Formerly independent children may become clingy, develop an imaginary friend, or have difficulty with bedtime. This behavior is common. Support them during this period of transition. Provide comfort and assure them that you are there for them. When they feel emotionally stronger they will resume their former level of functioning.

2. Keep their lives predictable. Keep up routines, schedules and expectations. Do not let guilt that your child has an absent parent prevent you from having structure and rules. Structure will provide reassurance and stability for your children. Children thrive on boundaries. Don’t let them convince you otherwise!

3. Anger masks sadness. Sad children often look angry. The child that strikes out at a friend or kicks the sibling may really be acting out his feelings of grief. While such behavior should never be accepted, the parent can help the child by helping them learn healthier ways to express their true feelings. Young children may not even be aware of what their feelings are, and will benefit from having it explained to them. Children may also experience somatic complaints that are rooted in feelings of anxiety, fear and sadness.

4. Inform teachers and coaches. Your children may behave differently in other environments. They may act out, have shorter attention spans, withdraw, etc. Notify other significant adults that a parent had a military deployment. They will then be prepared to be a positive support to your children.

5. Help children manage feelings of powerlessness by doing something directly related to the absent parent. My suggestions include working on a project for the parent’s homecoming, writing cards, drawing pictures to send, making videos to share via YouTube, etc.

6. Read your children a book related to deployment. A publication issued by the U.S. Army Family and Morale, Welfare, and Recreation Command Child and Youth Services, http://old.armymwr.com/cys-mages/Deployment%20A%20Compendium%20of%20Resources.pdf, has a long list of resources including books, websites and other tools that can help children. Some of the resources help the adults to help children.

7. Talk about the deployed parent. Include this parent in daily chatter. Talking about the parent will not make your children sadder. Rather, it will let your children know that they are permitted to share their feelings and thoughts rather than to stuff them inside. Stuffed, unresolved feelings are likely to be acted out in an unhealthy manner. Young children may feel that they are responsible for a parent’s departure; that they are being punished for having been bad. Talking with your children will help you learn if they have any misconceptions requiring clarification.

8. Communicate honestly. Children have one absent parent, so they are very dependent on and need to trust the remaining at home parent. Adjust shared information so that it is acceptable to both the age of your children as well as their emotional maturity.

9. Look for opportunities to laugh with each other. Shared laughter is healthy, fun, bonding, and helps provide balance in our perspective on day to day activities. It is one more tool to use in keeping the family ties close.

Eileen Lenson

Parents: Support Your Children’s Independence

It used to be, way back in our grandparent’s time, that children spent time working in the family business. In our parent’s time, modern technology freed children from having to work, and parents were able to spend more time simply loving their children. Today’s families are enjoying a higher standard of living. With the increased freedom parents experience because of housekeepers, telecommuting, gardeners, tutors and other resources, our children today are not just loved – they are cherished!

So is cherishing children a bad thing? Yes, if it means that we are inhibiting the development of their independence!

In my practice I see situations where parents refuse to allow their children to fail. All loving parents desperately want their children to have exposure to the best in life. However, by refusing to allow their children to fail, some parents are not permitting children to be children. What some parents do not recognize is that stumbling and making mistakes are vital tasks of childhood.

The following issues are ones all parents should consider:

1. Children need to be able to make mistakes; it is how they learn consequences for their decisions. Childhood is like an 18-year-long laboratory experiment. Few experiments are successful at the first attempt. Failures teach children valuable lessons. They can then incorporate these lessons next time a similar situation is encountered, and then have a better chance of success. Earned lessons will last a lifetime. For example, a child learns that being a poor sport, or even a bully, in a team sport will result in his teammates and coach being angry. This child will undoubtedly be displeased with the consequence – rejection from peers and not being selected to play at future games. Similarly, the child who squanders his allowance impulsively on frivolities will suffer the consequence of his decision when he has no money to join his friends at the theater.

Unfortunately, parents all too often rescue their children from making mistakes. In the above sporting event example, many cherishing parents will call the coach, make excuses, or threaten with a lawsuit. Likewise, some rescuing parents will inhibit their child’s ability to learn the lessons of living within one’s financial means by offering more money.

2. Avoid living vicariously through your children. It is perfectly acceptable for your children to not be perfect. All children can not be on the same academic, social, and physical competitive level with all other children in all situations. We want the best for our children, and selection of a well positioned career can help secure future happiness. So it is understandable that parents are tempted to exert control over their children due to the fierce competition to get into highly desired universities. But at what cost? Hara Estroff Marano, in A Nation of Wimps: The High Cost of Invasive Parenting, found that because so many children fail to learn necessasry coping skills for independence in childhood, that many are not prepared for college and are breaking down.

3. Especially since 9/11, with national terrorism concerns and financial crises, parents want to do what they can to help their children achieve happiness in this insecure period of time. Other parents just can’t accept that their children should experience unhappiness, regardless how deserved or momentary. Unfortunately, the end result is the same in all the above experiences – the child’s emotional development is thwarted.

To rescue our children from frustration or unhappiness is to convey the message that we don’t believe they have the capacity to do things on their own. I am confident that our children will not always select the best option, but any selection (so long as it is not life threatening) offers life lessons that will aid them in future selections. Our role, as parents, is to help our children understand the implications so that they can learn what components of their decision making was good, and what they would like to do differently next time.

4. Sometimes it isn’t the over ambitious parent rescuing the child. At times, parents are manipulated by the child. Parents can mistakenly get hooked into rescuing children when their lack of involvement is interpreted as a lack of caring. Single parents, parents of children who have suffered a loss, and working parents with guilt are easy targets. Mark Gregston, in his article, The Over-involved Parent, observes that while neither over or under-involvement is desired, at least the child learns to rely on himself with the under-involved parent.

By expecting the child to independently complete tasks on his own, he learns responsible behavior. Learning to have the confidence to write papers in grade school will give your child the confidence to write papers in college – without having to first email them to you for corrections or rewriting. To rescue your child by encouraging dependence on you is to sabotage personal growth.

Let your children be children. Cherish their mistakes and have confidence that they will learn through the struggles. Trust that they have the skills to reflect within themselves to find the best answers. The mistakes the kids make, followed by the lessons they learn, can provide lifetime skills.

I am a parent. I know first hand how wonderful it feels to be needed by a child. But to create dependencies on us is unfair to them. It is our job to help our kids feel independent, to know how to learn in new situations, and be responsible. We can help them accomplish these goals by not lying or making excuses, but instead raise them to feel empowered. Providing support, love and guidance – rather than suffocation in the form of cherishing – helps our children grow up to be emotionally stable adults, ready and capable of tackling the challenges of life.

I welcome you to share your comments about what has worked – or not worked – to support emotional independence in children?

Eileen Lenson

How To Help People After An Earthquake

Today, while preparing for Hurricane Irene, a 5.8 magnitude earthquake struck the East Coast region of the United States. Unlike the hurricane, which weather forecasters provide minute by minute updates on predicted landfall, wind velocity, and even the amount of expected precipitation, the largest earthquake on the East Coast struck without warning. The nerves of millions of unprepared people were deeply shaken.

While property damage and bodily injury appears to have been relatively small, considering the size of the earthquake, people should be alert to others having a delayed sadness that impairs their ability to function as before. One such reaction is Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, often characterized as having nightmares, flashbacks, avoidance of people or things that remind them of the earthquake, feeling numb emotionally, or agitated.

Oftentimes these reactions are experienced acutely, and within a few days, people gradually feel secure again and return back to their normal routines. But some people are not so resilient. Those who have suffered other losses, such as a loss of a home to foreclosure, a bankruptcy, loss of a loved one to death, or are recently relocated (such as a move for a job or college), may be more vulnerable. Others, due to cultural inhibitions, may find themselves unable to turn to others for help. Many people reported that they initially thought the earthquake was a terror attack. People in swaying high rises had flashbacks of 9/11 and reported momentary feelings of terror and powerlessness.

So, in the aftermath of this earthquake, reach out to those you know who may be physically, socially or emotionally isolated. Encourage them to talk and express their feelings. A little intervention from a caring friend, family member or neighbor can mean the difference between a good and bad response to this earthquake in those who we care about.

Kindly share your experiences of how you coped, and what helped. Or, if you have suggestions for helping others.

Eileen Lenson