- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 7, 2009

Dear Ms. Vicki,

My husband has been in Afghanistan and will be coming home soon for R&R. I am concerned about the way our children may behave when he has to leave again. I know they are very young, but I know they understand their father is gone. Are they too young to understand about him leaving?

When he first left, the children were crying and were moody. With him coming home and getting reacquainted just to have him leave once again, I have no idea how to handle the situation. I’m afraid they may get confused or their moodiness and tantrums are going to get worse.

This is my husband’s second deployment, so I know what to expect and how to handle the situation. However, this is my first experience as a mother dealing with children and deployments. How can I help them adjust to Daddy leaving again? I am really hoping you have some advice for me on this one. — Hoping for the Best

Dear Hoping,

I’m confident that the best will happen in your situation. The changes in your children’s moods were quite normal. With R&R their moods will change again. You are right it will be another adjustment.

Children are quite resilient, but can sense the absence of a parent. More importantly, they will pick up the mood or affect of the caretaker or non-deployed parent — you. Expect for your children to be tearful, clingy, wanting to sleep with you, etc. They may be somewhat shy around their father. This is all normal.

I would advise you to confront the many fears you may have about this deployment and your husband’s absence and how it has affected you. Moreover, please discuss these concerns with your husband and let him know how you feel. I’m sure you have missed him tremendously, have endured some struggles and made some strides. But I’m sure you don’t want to put him on a plane to return to Afghanistan. Again, talk with your husband, employ emotional support from family and friends, and enjoy your time with your husband and family.

Overall, your children will be fine, especially if you are, right? I know it’s been difficult, but I think you probably have been doing a good job so far. Continue to take care of yourself and your family.

Dear Ms. Vicki,

I have a quick question for you because I really enjoy reading the advice that you give. My problem is not as serious as other letters you receive. What can you do about friends who are always comparing their children to other children? Of course their children always fare much better. They are always much smarter and way ahead of their peers.

They say things like “I had my 3-year-old daughter tested and she is reading on a fourth-grade level,” “My son’s swimming coach said he is sure to be the next Michael Phelps by the age of 16.” Why do people have to brag about their children by putting other children down?

What do you do in those situations? They have me looking at my children and thinking something must be wrong with them. Any advice? — Father With Average Kids

Dear Father, Help your children set realistic goals for themselves. Don’t get caught up in the competition with others. Continue to praise your children for all of their accomplishments, showing respect for others or being a good sport in the soccer game. Let them know they are great!

The next time you hear “My Sally is 5 years old and she discovered the cure for rheumatoid arthritis,” or “Chris is such a genius, he designed our new 3,500-square-foot home,” just say, “That’s amazing, you must be so proud.”

Let your kids be kids, they will have enough stress as adults.

Vicki Johnson is a licensed clinical social worker, military spouse and mother of three. Her column runs in The Washington Times on Thursdays and Sundays. Contact her at [email protected]

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