- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 4, 2001

The natural resilience of children will benefit them during the tough times when their parents are activated and deployed for military service, say several people who work with families.

"We have to be tuned into the loss they are experiencing, but to worry and worry about children recovering is pessimistic," says Barbara Coloroso, author of "Parenting Through Crisis: Helping Kids in Times of Loss, Grief and Change."

Ms. Coloroso, a parenting educator who lives in Colorado, has worked on military bases in this country and overseas showing parents and other educators how to help children with such issues as deployment. The former Franciscan nun holds a graduate degree in learning and emotional disabilities and bachelor's degrees in education and theology.

"I start with the basic tenets of 'Life is unfair,' 'Life hurts' and 'Life is good,'" she says. "If you can understand that life is unfair, then you're not asking, 'Why did this happen to me?' Some people didn't get on the elevator that day and some people didn't get on the plane. From there, I look at, What do kids need in the rough times to help them get through?"

Calm acceptance is key, says Dr. Paramjit Joshi, a child psychiatrist at Children's National Medical Center in the District.

"Tell the child, 'Now it's time for mom or dad to be deployed. They have a job to do,'" she says. "Acknowledge they will miss each other but will remain in contact."

With younger children, it can be helpful to offer something precious to the child as a comfort item, such as a photograph or stuffed animal that the parent has given to the child, Dr. Joshi says.

"The departing parent can tell the child, 'Every time you miss me, hold on to this,'" she says.

Most important, says the doctor, the child should be able to feel and express pride in the contributions of his parents.

"The child should be able to go to school and say, 'Look, my daddy's helping.' You can turn it around and make the person feel good about what is happening: 'The president is so proud of everyone who is doing this. The country is so proud. See the flags?'"

Ms. Coloroso says she doesn't use the words "handle" or "closure" when discussing grief with anyone or when offering advice on a national TV segment in Toronto, in which she is featured weekly to speak about parenting issues. Instead, she talks of what she calls "the TAO of family time, affection and a sense of optimism."

This message can be especially pertinent to parents who remain at home with children after a spouse has been deployed, Ms. Coloroso says.

"First of all, kids need our time," she says. "They need to know that nothing they ask is off-limits. If your kid asks, 'What if dad dies?' don't just say don't talk about that."

Ms. Coloroso says children need time away from their problems: "Time to laugh, go to soccer games, have a good time. We also all need time alone to brood sometimes. And we don't need to keep them busy all the time, because when you're just hanging around, a lot of conversation will come along."

Affection brings a hug and humor every day, she says.

"Humor is a good healing tool," Ms. Coloroso says. "Don't be surprised if your child uses some gallows humor to get through this."

Last is the sense of optimism, she says.

"During these rough times, we have to make a conscious effort to do something fun with our children," Ms. Coloroso says. "This is so critical. It's not rose-colored optimism that all is right in the world, but what has been called tragic optimism. That is when you've been brought to your knees in grief but you can get up in the morning, fix your kids breakfast and saying we're going to get through this, believing that life is good."

Neighbors and communities also can help soothe some of the loneliness and fear families of deployed servicemen and -women will experience, Ms. Coloroso says.

"Reach out to them. Invite them over, include them in activities. Ask them what they're going through what do you need and what can I do?" she says. "Can we be there for them to do these things. Are we there to listen and honor their grief and confront their pain and let them tell their story?

"Offer them our compassion and empathy. When we respond with such a generous spirit and kindness, we'll help them alleviate their suffering. What we are doing is creating caring communities and a safe harbor for everyone in our community because we're modeling it for our kids."


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