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My stomach turned as I flipped the calendar page to the first month of summer. Pushing the thumbtack back into place, I thought back on the almost-comfortable routine that had kept my son busy during the spring semester — the first quarter of my husband’s year-long deployment. Now, weeks upon weeks of unplanned days stretched before us, and the lack of structured activities left me anxious about the months ahead.
How were we ever going to make it to September?
If you can relate to this sentiment right about now, I’ve got your back. Here are eight ways to help kids survive the summer during deployment.
Sign up for a reading program.
Getting lost for a little while in a good book each day is a great way to help kids beat summertime blues during deployment. Travel to faraway places, make new friends and leave your stress behind as you turn the pages together. The Department of Defense offers fantastic summer reading programs with prizes and special events at installations around the world to keep military kids engaged and entertained all summer long. Thanks to United Through Reading, your deployed service member could join in the fun, too. Visit unitedthroughreading.org to find out how.
Put them to work.
It’s no secret, life can feel a little (or a lot!) chaotic during deployment. Opportunities abound for kids to take on responsibilities and be rewarded for hard work, helping them gain a sense of accomplishment and control over their behavior during this tough time. Baby- or pet-sitting, mowing lawns and doing chores are great jobs for older kids and teens. Even young children can earn coins for their piggy banks by completing simple tasks around the house. Help them set a small financial goal to work towards, and celebrate together when they reach it.
Take advantage of free and discounted activities.
Theme parks, museums and entertainment venues have teamed up to offer special deals to keep military kids busy throughout the summer months. Learn something new at an admission-fee Blue Star Museum or play two games at your installation bowling alley each day courtesy of KidsBowlFree.com. If you have plans to improve your moods at the happiest place on earth, check out the Disney Armed Forces Discount before you go. Waves of Honor also offers complimentary tickets to Seaworld and Busch Gardens locations across the United States. Find more deals on RetailSalute.com.
Deployment is the perfect time to teach kids what it means to serve and care for those in need. Volunteering helps shift children’s focus outward, boosts morale and fosters deeper connections to the community. Great volunteer opportunities for military kids include participating in a park clean-up days, re-stocking shelves at the library and loving on cats and dogs in animal shelters. Or, consider putting together epic care packages for your service member’s unit.
Send them to camp.
Whether it’s a day chock full of activities or a week-long sleepaway adventure, summer camps are designed to teach children new skills and expose them to fun, positive experiences while helping them gain confidence and learn what it means to be a part of a team. There are fee-free and discounted programs specially designed for military kids experiencing a separation, like Camp Yellow Ribbon, Semper Fi Fund Kids Camp and Operation Purple Camp. Consider each child’s individual interests and needs, and research camp opportunities in your area.
Soak up the sun.
Vitamin D is important to our physical and mental health. When deployment has your spirits sinking, lather on the sunscreen and hit your favorite pool or splash pad. Don’t feel like leaving the house? That’s completely understandable. Set up a slip-n-slide, water table or kiddie pool in the backyard, and catch some rays from the comfort of your own yard.
Celebrate, but keep it simple.
Summer is the best time of year for fairs, festivals and backyard barbecues, and Facebook is flooded with photos of families going on vacations and spending time together. Even though it feels like it should at times, life doesn’t stop during a deployment. Allow yourself to celebrate the big and little events with your kids, from small milestones to big Independence Day bonanzas, but be aware that being around other families who are making memories with their service member can stir up tough emotions. Simple celebrations at home are often the best options for kids who are missing a deployed parent.
Give yourself a break.
Fill your calendar with activities to keep the kids busy, but give yourself permission to cancel plans and just stay home in your pajamas when you just don’t feel like going out. We all need a day (or two or three) to rest and recuperate every now and then — especially when separated from loved ones. Taking care of yourself just might be the best thing you can do to help your kids survive the summer during a deployment.
Even though there were definitely days when I wasn’t sure if summer would ever end… it did. September arrived, just like it had the year before.
We survived. And you will, too.
What are your best tips for helping kids survive the summer during deployment? Please leave your ideas in the comment section.