Creative Ways to Connect Your Child and Your Soldier

Fun with Flat Stanley

It’s never easy for children to be separated from their parents and loved ones, whether it is for military duty or something such as serious illness or injury. Keeping connections between close family members can be just a little bit easier by using a new twist on the traditional Flat Stanley project. Instead of just one Flat Stanley having adventures with lucky individuals, children and their beloved soldier will both get to have adventures and make memories with this Flat Fellows activity, easing the physical and sometimes emotional distance separating them.

How to Make Flat Fellows

If you, your child, or your soldier, have never read the classic Flat Stanley, by Jeff Brown, begin by sharing this story together. You can read the book aloud to your young child, recording your voice, or your older reader can record his own voice. Send the audio file to your soldier, or if it is easier, send the actual paperback book and let him read it for himself.

Once everyone is familiar with the tale, the new twist on the project, Flat Fellows, can begin with these first steps.

  • Take a full-height picture of your child or have her draw one of herself on cardstock paper. If you are using a photo, print the picture on white cardstock or other heavyweight paper. A sheet of 8.5” x 11” is an easy size to mail when folded in thirds.
  • Arrange to either receive a full-height picture of your soldier, have your soldier draw one himself, or have your child design one.
  • Take 2 folders with brad bindings on the inside (add paper to the folders), 2 journals with pockets, or even 2 scrapbooks, and add a Flat Fellow to each one.
  • You can copy the following phrase into the journals or on pages in the folders, have your child write it out, or come up with your own (just make sure to do it for both journals).

I am your new Flat Fellow friend

And I can’t wait to see where you roam.

Take me along wherever you go,

And bring me back to your special home.

Make sure to write about it for                           (fill in with name of child/soldier)

He/she can’t wait to hear all our tales.

Even though we can’t always be right there

Our special love never fails.

Once you have your new poem inscribed, you can explain to your child and your soldier how this is going to work. Your child will keep the journal with the Flat Fellow who looks like your soldier, while your soldier will get the journal with the Flat Fellow of your child.

Why Flat Fellows are Important

The idea behind this project is that your soldier and child will each record notes about what the Flat Fellow saw, what the Flat Fellow might have eaten, and anything the Flat Fellow might have done. Your child can take pictures of her Flat Fellow going down the slide at the park, sitting in your child’s bike basket, or riding in the car going to Grandma’s. If you go to a movie, your Flat Fellow can take the ticket stub and add it to the journal. Let your child be creative. Your soldier can be inventive as well about his activities, perhaps taking a picture with his Flat Fellow in a bunk or writing about how many friends the Flat Fellow has met.

The main goal of doing this activity with your child and your soldier is to build another opportunity for them both to feel connected with each other. Even though they are far apart, their Flat Fellows can be witnesses to the little things in life that make all of the difference. You can continue this project for any length of time, but doing it for at least 2-3 weeks should give you a good supply of memories for the journals, but the longer you continue the project, the more interesting the adventures might become. It can also make a great Christmas present for both your child and your soldier to receive the newly created Flat Fellow journals or scrapbooks so they both know what the other has been doing. Separation from loved ones can be difficult for children (and adults), but finding positive ways to form new types of connections will help bridge those distances and keep kids thinking about new ways to have their Flat Fellows share their own adventures.

Photo credit: Jason

Celebrating Thanksgiving and Birthdays During Deployment (Part 2!)

· Filed Under Health, Relationships, This & That · Comment 

Thanksgiving and Birthdays!

In America Thanksgiving is a time of gathering with family and reflecting on all we have in our lives. Even though your soldier might not be able to be present for the celebration, you can include him and help you and your children feel connected to him during this holiday season.

Cornucopia of Blessings

Take an empty wicker or other decorative cornucopia, a symbol of overflowing bounty, and place it in a central location in the home. Several weeks before Thanksgiving, take time each day to write with your children one thing they are thankful for and place this note in the cornucopia. Use orange, yellow, and red pieces of paper, and fold them to give them depth before you place them in the cornucopia. By Thanksgiving you should have visible evidence of all of the wonderful things in your life. At dinner, read these aloud among whomever is there, then take them and create a scrapbook of thanks for your soldier and send the book as a wonderful reminder of the love waiting back home.

Turkey Cookies

You can’t easily send mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie in a box overseas, but you can still send some holiday treats to your soldier. Use your regular sugar cookie dough recipe, divided into two, and add just enough food coloring to each batch to make one yellow and the other orange. Roll out the dough and use turkey shaped cookie cutters. Have your kids help you decorate them with fall colored sprinkles, and then send a sweet treat to your soldier. If you have teens or tweens, consider letting them have a baking party where they can invite friends over to make and decorate the cookies, and have enough to share with neighbors or send to other soldiers.

Birthdays – Gotta Have ‘Em

For your soldier’s birthday, send a care package that the kids help create. You can include the usual birthday cards, but add in there some unique surprises such as trick candles, a roll of streamers, balloons, and a list of all the things you love about your soldier – the number should match the age the birthday brings. You could even opt to send a clue as to what the birthday gift waiting at home is, but keep the actual gift at home, creating anticipation your child can get excited about with this fun secret.

If your soldier is missing the birthday of your child and that is causing sadness, you can plan ahead and have your soldier pick a special gift to give your child. Have the gift wrapped and with a card from your soldier. It could even be the first gift of the day, or a special token left on a pillow just before bed time. Your soldier could record herself singing Happy Birthday and either send it to you online or on a flash drive to play for your child. Take two pieces of birthday cake, one each for your child and your soldier, and borrow a tradition from weddings and place the cake in the freezer to be shared when your soldier returns.

No matter what the holiday, celebration, or special event is, it is important to make sure you don’t put your lives on pause while your soldier is deployed. For children this matters even more. The younger they are the more their memories will be shadowed by emotions. Do what you can to make sure that those special times are celebrated when your soldier is deployed, but include your soldier in little ways to bring all of you closer.

For the first installment of this two part series, see Creative Ways to Celebrate Holidays During Your Soldier’s Deployment (Part 1!)

Photo credit: Adrian

Creative Ways to Celebrate Holidays During Your Soldier’s Deployment (Part 1!)

· Filed Under Family, Health, Relationships · Comment 

Christmas with kids!

Holidays and birthdays are those special times when we try to gather with loved ones to celebrate and create memories. When those who are important to us are deployed abroad, keeping traditions and celebrating without them can be a sad reminder of the distance separating you from them. When there are young children involved, finding ways to recognize special days can become even more challenging.

Keep Celebrating

Soldiers have some of the only jobs that continue right through the holidays, and sometimes days abroad are barely recognizable as holidays compared to typical celebrations at home. However, for loved ones at home holidays can be markers of time that are bittersweet. Children sometimes feel guilty about celebrating without their parents or older siblings, and may not want to acknowledge the holiday until the soldier comes home. Find ways to keep celebrating, even if you need to modify the typical plans.

Celebrating Christmas During Deployment

Christmas is celebrated all around the world, and the distance might never seem so great between you and your soldier than at this time of year. Use one or all of the following tips for creating memories, keeping traditions, and making new ones this holiday season with your children and your soldier.

Christmas – The Sequel

Make holidays Part I and Part II celebrations, and reinforce to kids that this is the best of both worlds! Part I of the holiday can be celebrated on the original date, such as Christmas. There are just certain things that mark these passages of time, such as attending a church service, singing carols with the neighbors, and decorating a tree. Hold a Part II celebration when your soldier returns, and account for some of the traditions that can be done “out of season”. This might be snuggling together to watch It’s a Wonderful Life, making a gingerbread house, or exchanging Secret Santa gifts. Your soldier will love the homecoming celebration, and your child will be able to continue celebrating and create memories.

Trimming the Tree

A Christmas tree can be a symbol of life, and decorating one is often a family tradition. One way to make trimming the tree special for families separated by deployment is to ask your soldier to send back little trinkets from the base or the area in which they are serving. These can be as simple as buttons, postcards, or even pictures. Help your kids to use these items to make Christmas ornaments to hang on your tree at home.

In return, send your soldier a paper handprint tree that the kids make together. To do this, start with the smallest hands first (if you have more than one child), and trace 2 or 3 handprints on green construction paper. Do this for everyone in the family. Cut out the handprints. Arrange the cutouts with the fingers pointing downward, overlapping each other like this one, and glue the pieces to form a tree. Let the kids decorate the handprint tree with markers, glitter, stickers, and more, then wrap up this great Christmas tree and send it to your soldier.

thijs

Adjusting to Life After Your Soldier Returns from Deployment

· Filed Under Deployment, Health · Comment 

Happy Couple

You’ve waited months, perhaps more than a year, to welcome your soldier home. You’ve shopped for food to make his favorite meal, arranged for his parents to visit upon his return, and helped the kids make signs welcoming him home. But are you really ready for the return?

Sometimes even after all of those sleeplessness nights, counting days until the return, the homecoming doesn’t always lead to sunshine and rainbows. There is often a honeymoon period when you won’t be able to stop looking at each other, and the kids will be stuck like honey to his side. However, some military families are caught off guard by the feelings of resentment that might emerge, the adjustment to new routines, and the fact that somehow life went on during deployment and not everything is just how it used to be.

Possible Threats to the Honeymoon after Homecoming

Even thinking about the idea that there might be negative emotions upon return from deployment might be more than you want to do. However, preparing for the possibilities will help to diminish the likelihood that these situations will occur, and the effects of them won’t have to be so severe. There are bound to be adjustments that need to be made – start thinking early about how things have changed for you during deployment and what those changes might mean to your soldier.

  • The children have an earlier bedtime, necessitated by the fact that you needed an extra 30 minutes alone each night.
  • The kids have had one authority figure in their life and aren’t used to the ramifications of two in the house.
  • You have developed a new weekend routine. On Saturday the kids do their activities, you spend the afternoon working on projects, and in the evening you hang out with other kids and their moms.
  • Your mom spends at least 2 afternoons each week at your house, helping with the kids and household chores.
  • The financial planning has been on your plate and you have developed a method to the madness.
  • You’ve met new friends and enjoy one evening a month going somewhere special with them as a treat for you.

While all of these scenarios are not necessarily negative ones, the effects they might have on your relationship with your soldier upon his return could become negative if you’re not prepared. Make a realistic assessment of how your relationship looked and worked before deployment and make sure that you don’t just assume that it will continue in the new routines without compromise. Your soldier will be facing his own readjustments so it is imperative that you work together as a team to make the homecoming a long lasting positive experience.

Make sure you communicate regularly about daily life. You might be used to independent living and decision making, but you need to remember to include your soldier in the daily routines.

Be watchful for signs of PTSD in your soldier or other stress related issues. Don’t hesitate to encourage him to seek help or talk with someone yourself. Also keep in mind that you might benefit from sharing with a third party how you are adjusting to life after homecoming.

Be aware of changes in the kids’ behaviors, either increased anxiety over your soldier being gone for even a few minutes, or rebellious behavior that tests the waters. Nip this in the bud and work together with your soldier to form a parenting unit. Don’t let the kids create a great divide between you now that you have just gotten him home.

Soon after homecoming sit down and revisit the responsibility list. Maybe you will continue to mow the lawn now, and he wants to take over weekend cooking for the family. Go over the family calendar and get your soldier up to speed on the activities of everyone and how he can participate and help. Just don’t direct the show – form a team. Whatever your decisions are, work on making them together.

Photo credit: Rachel

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