Reconecting after deployment: Children ages 0-5

Tips to help children ages 0-5 reconnect with their service member when they return.

When a service member returns home after a long deployment it can be a mixture of emotions for both the family and the service member.

When a service member returns home after a long deployment it can be a mixture of emotions for both the family and the service member.

Deployments are a normal part of life for military families, but they can still be hard to navigate. When a service member returns home after a long deployment it can be a mixture of emotions for both the family and the service member. Homecoming can be confusing for younger children who do not understand what a deployment is and why their service member was gone.

According to Michigan State University Extension, it’s important to remember that each family and each child is unique in how they deal with homecoming, not all children will show each reaction or may show different reactions. Here are some common reactions and tips recommended by Operation: Military Kids Ready, Set, Go training to help children ages 0-5 reconnect to their service member.

Children birth–1 year may show some of these common reactions:

  • Cries, fusses and pulls away from the service member
  • Clings to the parent/caregiver who stayed behind
  • Sleeping and eating habits change
  • Does not recognize the service member

To help reconnect to children birth–1 year, try the following:

  • Hold them and hug them a lot
  • Get involved in every day tasks like bathing, changing and feeding
  • Play with them
  • Don’t force them to go to the service member, but encourage them to interact
  • Relax and be patient – they will warm up

Children ages 1-3 years old may show some of these common reactions:

  • Becomes shy
  • Does not know the service member
  • Cries and has temper tantrums
  • Regresses in some behaviors (no longer uses the potty on their own, etc.)

To help reconnect to children 1-3 years of age, try the following:

  • Allow them time and space to get to know you again and feel comfortable; don’t force holding, hugging or kissing
  • Have fun with them – play games
  • Be gentle with them until they warm up
  • Sit at their level to connect with them

Children ages 3-5 years old may show some of these common reactions:

  • Shows anger openly
  • Acts out to get the service members’ attention
  • Can seem demanding
  • Feels guilty because they think they made the service member go away
  • Talks a lot to bring the service member up-to-date

To help reconnect to children 3-5 years of age, try the following:

  • Listen to them talk
  • Accept their feelings – even the angry and sad ones – let them know it’s ok to feel those feelings
  • Play with them
  • Tell them how you much love them and remind them of why you had to go away with simple explanations
  • Ask them about their interests (what do they like at school, favorite foods, favorite colors, etc.)

If you are interested in activities that can help your family reconnect, visit the MSU Extension website and take a look at the 4-H Military Family Booksheets. These are helpful activities to help families during deployment all based around children’s books. If you are looking for more articles about deployment support, check out Finding Support for Children and Youth with Deployed Family Members for a helpful checklist on who might support your child or youth during your service member’s deployment and the Emotional Cycle of Deployment that explains each stage of the deployment cycle and gives helpful activities you can do to keep your family connected. You can find general tips to support reconnecting after a deployment in Reconnecting After Deployment. You can also find additional deployment support information on the Military OneSource website, the Operation: Military Kids website and the 4-H Military Partnerships website.

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