It was the middle of deployment, and I was already at the end of my rope. The oldest of my four children, a second grader, had made it her mission to challenge me on every single thing I said and to drain every last ounce of my patience. She had always been a stubborn handful, but once Dad deployed, a very mean and vicious streak came out of her. She verbally attacked me every day and started to physically lash out at her younger siblings. If we all wanted to survive the deployment, it was clear that some things needed to change.
I had tried all the parenting tricks I knew. We had done positive praise and rewards. She could earn extra allowance money for being helpful. She could spend extra one-on-one time with me if she had a good day. She didn’t care.
I tried the opposite–taking away privileges and favorite toys. I put her in time-out and sent her to bed early. None of that had any effect on her. Finally, I resorted to yelling and sometimes spanking her for very flagrant acts of disobedience. She would stare me down and literally laugh in my face.
The behavior didn’t change. I wasn’t comfortable doing any more yelling and spanking. It was time to call for backup. But who could I call?
If this sounds like your house, keep reading. There is hope and help!
Use these 5 resources during deployment to help military kids adjust
1. MFLC: The Military Family Life Counselor (MFLC) is a civilian attached to a military unit who assists service members and their dependent family members. The MFLC is a professional social worker or psychologist. While they are not authorized to diagnose any disorders or problems, they are able to give parents basic counseling advice and point them in the direction of other resources. The MFLC was the person I called when I felt like I was losing control of my household. She met with me several times—for free—and listened to the trouble I was having with my daughter. She informed me of some practical and legal resources I could use on base or through the school. Her advice was confidential, so I did not have to worry about any report being filed in my service member’s record. Because of the MFLC, we learned of several programs I had not heard about before.
2. School Counselor: If your child is acting out at home, there is a good chance they are also acting out at school. Talk to your child’s teacher to see if there has been any unusual or problematic behavior, especially if it is during a deployment. The teacher may have some insights or advice for the behavior. The school counselor can speak to your child about appropriate ways to express anger. Schools on military bases often have groups for children with deployed parents. Those children can meet at lunch, recess, or after school to discuss issues specific to families during deployments.
3. FOCUS: Families OverComing Under Stress (FOCUS) is a program on military bases that provides family resilience training. The program allows families to meet with a counselor six times over a period of several months. Some meetings are for the spouse alone, while others include school-aged children. During the sessions, families learn to articulate times they have been challenged or stressed. They also discuss activities that can help them calm down when they are entering the orange or red zone of anger. This was a great program for my family. It gave us lots of visual tools to discuss deployment with the kids, and allowed them to share their emotions. Because of FOCUS, we finally connected the dots between my child’s treatment of me and her anger that Dad was deployed.
4. Pediatric psychiatrist: When the school counselor suggested an official pediatric exam to rule out behavioral conditions like ADHD and ODD, we were referred to a pediatric psychologist. This was an off-base specialist, so my first concern was whether TRICARE would cover therapy appointments. I was relieved to learn that yes, TRICARE covers therapy or counseling sessions for family members. In fact, TRICARE covers a variety of mental health issues and treatments. More details are available here.
5. Operation Hero: This after-school program, funded by the Armed Services YMCA (ASYMCA), is available on military bases across the country. Operation Hero is a positive environment where school-aged children can get help with homework while also getting support from peers going through similar challenges like deployment or recent PCS moves. Hero tutors provide activities that help the kids express their emotions and believe in their own strengths. Not only did my daughter make some friends in the program, but she also got academic help, which prevented her grades from sliding farther.
If you are struggling with your children during a deployment, don’t panic. You are doing the best you can, but deployments can affect children in a variety of ways. Instead of feeling helpless and out of control, contact one of these organizations. It will connect you with your child and provide solutions for the whole family.
By Lizann Lightfoot