Military families stationed around the world are facing high rates of deployment and transition.

Deployment is a difficult time for everyone involved — from the adults being deployed, to the children they leave behind, to the community of family and friends who must step into new roles. But, with the right approach and a plan in place, families and schools can provide the stable, warm environment children need to succeed.

The deployment cycle is best thought of as three separate phases:
1) predeployment
2) deployment
3) reunion.

Each phase has unique issues and requires different strategies. Here are tips and strategies for each phase that both families and educators can use to reach their shared goal — happy, well adjusted, well-educated children!

Predeployment:

Families
• Share with children as many details about the deployment as possible.
• Make sure the caregiver has a support network in place to rely on in the weeks and months ahead.
• Inform your child’s school of the deployment, and make sure to introduce your child’s teacher and guardian before you depart.
• Take time to build memories with your child. Leave remembrances such as photographs or a tape recording, and ask your child for something to take with you while you are deployed.

Educators
• Constantly communicate to parents the need for information and the importance of keeping the school informed.
• Create easy ways for parents to communicate with teachers.
• Keep the child engaged in the school environment and open to expressing feelings.

Deployment:

Families
• Stay in touch and remain as involved in daily education routines as possible.
• Illustrate the length of time the parent will be away through tools like a paper chain with each day as an individual link, or a basket filled with the appropriate number of candy.
• Make sure the caregiver talks about the deployed parent each day to keep the child connected.

Educators
• Serve as extra eyes and ears for the parent and caregiver, monitoring any changes in a child’s behavior or school performance.
• Use deployments as a teaching opportunity, and talk about related issues to help the child’s classmates better understand the situation.
• Devote a special section of your school’s Web site as a resource and connection for parents who have been deployed.

Reunion:

Families
• Thoroughly discuss the homecoming with your children, and make sure they know it’s natural to be both nervous and excited.
• Plan special events and activities for the deployed parent’s return.
• Express excitement about being together again as a family, but let children know it will take time for everyone to adjust and settle into a new routine.

Educators
• Create a special project that allows students to express their feelings.
• Continue to monitor the child for any new behaviors, and keep the parents and caregiver informed.
• Invite the returned parent to school so the whole class can benefit from hearing about the parent’s experience.

Dr. Mary Keller has served as Executive Director of the Military Child Education Coalition™ (MCEC)™ since 2000. The Military Child Education Coalition™ (MCEC)™ is a 501(c)(3) non-profit, worldwide organization that identifies the challenges the face the highly mobile military-connected child, increases awareness of those challenges in military and educational communities, and initiates and implements programs to meet the challenges. Their goal is to level the educational playing field for all military-connected children, including active duty, National Guard, and Reserves.

Have more questions? Contact the Military Child Education Coalition at (254) 953-1923 or visit www.militarychild.org.