With the ongoing drawdown of service members from Afghanistan, military families are preparing for the return of loved ones. The homecoming of a service member can be very exciting, but it is also a significant transition that affects the entire family – especially children.
Fortunately, military families don’t have to face this transition alone. The Real Warriors Campaign (www.realwarriors.net) offers support for families throughout the deployment cycle. The campaign, an initiative of the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury (DCoE), promotes the processes of building resilience, facilitating recovery and supporting reintegration for returning service members, veterans and their families.
With tips from the Real Warriors Campaign, families can prepare for the excitement and potential challenges of a parent’s return home.
Communicate: Prior to a homecoming, it is important for parents or caregivers to communicate with their children and remind them that, just as they have grown and changed during the course of a deployment, it is likely that their parent has also had new experiences. By talking about some of these changes before the reunion, families can reduce the anxieties of a homecoming.
Real Warriors Campaign volunteer Sheri Hall experienced the challenges of reintegration firsthand when her husband, Army Maj. Jeff Hall, returned from his second deployment. She advises military families to communicate as openly as possible. “Encourage children to be vocal – to tell their families what’s bothering them,” Hall said. As children open up, be prepared for a range of emotions. It is important for parents to remain calm and understanding while listening to their children’s concerns.
Be Patient: Military families experience a natural adjustment period after deployment, during which children may experience excitement, as well as nervousness and anxiety. Families can ease concerns by taking time to get to know each other and routines again. Maj. Hall advises returning service members to be open to change during this transition. “Returning from deployment can be challenging. It’s important to be patient and remember some things may have changed while you were gone. Take time to get to know your family again,” Maj. Hall says.
Anticipate Change: During the course of a deployment, new family schedules and routines may have developed. For returning parents, it is important to remain open and flexible and learn the family’s new dynamic. It is also important for the entire family to help the returning service member adjust to changes that have occurred.
Homecomings are an important time for all military families, and communication, patience and flexibility help pave the way for a positive transition to reconnect with loved ones. For more tools, tips and resources for military families, visit the Real Warriors Campaign online at www.realwarriors.net or contact the DCoE Outreach Center to talk with trained health resource consultants for assistance 24/7 by calling 866-966-1020. More information and resources are also available at the DCoE website at www.dcoe.health.mil.