Let me ask you something
When dad is away, how does bedtime during deployment usually go for you?
Does your kid fight it? Do they kick and scream? Or do they cry and whine? Are they sad, angry, frustrated?
If you are anything like my family, the bedtime routine is usually done together with both mom and dad. Kids get used to that, they look forward to it and when a piece of that is missing, they act out.
In fact, I actually read that because their brain isn’t fully developed in small children, the “emotional side” and the “logical side” don’t really communicate with each other so a child might feel one way (sad) and behave a completely different way (screaming and throwing tantrums).
For my kid, he fights bedtime. He whines and points at the computer. If I’m not able to make dad magically appear then it’s a frustrated tantrum.
He does well with routines, like most kids, and when it’s thrown off– so is his schedule.
There’s a way to make bedtime easier
I found that these 7 tips can help bedtime during deployments (or trainings.. a.k.a anytime dad or mom is away) a little bit easier. Each day will be different, it’s unreasonable to expect every day to be perfect but a little bit can go a long way. And I’m all about making life (and deployments) a little easier.
1. Keep the bedtime routine as consistent as possible
If your kid is used to a certain routine, now isn’t the time to mix it up. You can add something (we will talk about that in a minute) but if they are used to doing things a certain way then keep it the same. For example, if their routine is usually; snack, bath, story, bedtime– then keep it that way.
My son is so used to his routine that I generally don’t even have to tell him to do thing. He just does it (and he’s not quite 2 years old).
Basically, what I mean is; don’t be lenient. Avoid letting them watch an extra hour of TV, sleep in your bed (unless they already do), or have an extra snack. Don’t give in to things you normally wouldn’t give in to because you feel bad for them missing their dad. Not only will this make it rough when dad is away but it will also make it rough to readjust when dad comes home.
2. Read a story (with dad)
Most families read a story together and while it might not be possible to have dad read a story via facetime every night, it is possible to include dad.
Recordable storybooks are a great example. If dad can record a couple different stories before he leaves or send one home then they will likely become your go-to books during deployments.
Another option (from Sarah of Servant Mama on products that helps kids through deployment) is to record a video of your kids and dad reading a story together before he leaves. They will absolutely enjoy watching themselves with dad while he’s away.
3. Say a prayer or make a wish for dad
Some families pray and some don’t. Either way is fine. Having your kids say a prayer might be a good way to help them feel a little more secure and in control.
If you don’t pray, you can have them make a wish each night for dad. It can be different each time if you want. For example, “I wish dad comes home safe” or “I wish dad sleeps good tonight”.
4. Keep communication open
You can use the prayer or wish to open up a conversation about dad and how your child is feeling. Use open-ended questions and encourage them to tell stories about dad. Try not to discourage them from talking about sad things; it’s okay for them to be sad, it will help them develop good coping skills.
In nursing school, I remember taking a whole class on effective communication skills. Here is a good article for those of you that didn’t have to take a multiple choice test and fight the urge to answer the most sarcastic option each time! It’s not specifically related to talking to children but the ideas are the same.
5. Brain dump a list of “what to tell dad”
Kind of like adults, sometimes kids need to brain dump– depending on the age of your child, of course.
Have you ever laid in bed for hours thinking of all the things you need to do or stuff you need to tell people? Kids tend to do the same but they might not be able to tell you that.
Have them make a list (and help them write it down) of things they want to tell dad about their day or things they want to do when dad get’s home, etc. That way it’s out of their head and they are able to fall asleep better.
6. Have a countdown
You might want to experiment with what time works better for your kids. Some might do better if you have the countdown (like the “one hershey kiss a day til dad comes home” idea) right before bed as a way to end the day. Other kids might do better if you do it first thing in the morning as an incentive or reward for getting through one more night.
It should go without saying, but even if they have a rough day or night, always let them do the countdown!
7. Have a comfort item
Lastly, having a comfort item like a stuffed animal, a daddy doll, or blanket will help immensely. Bonus points if the item is recordable and they can listen to their dad tell them how much he loves them whenever they are feeling down (make sure to have a spare recording in the case of long deployments!).
Not only will the item provide them comfort but you can always involve it in your routine so “bedtime” is signaled in their head.
For example, when it’s time for my son to go to sleep– whether it’s naptime or bedtime– I always hand him his Curious George stuffed animal and his favorite blanket. It’s his signal that it’s sleep time (even though he has access to these things through the day) and he runs into his room and hops into bed without me even saying a word.
At the end of the day, it’s tough
It’s tough for you, it’s tough for them, and it’s tough for dad. No one said deployments are easy. In fact, they are likely the worst part of military life.
Keeping a routine, helping your child communicate, and encouraging comfort and a connection to dad (or mom) will help bedtime be a little easier.
You never know– maybe they won’t have so many tantrums. Maybe they won’t have as many tears. Maybe there will be fewer moments of feeling like your heart is being ripped out of your chest as you watch your child struggle.
After all, your child isn’t the only one that misses dad– the hard part is that you have to try to keep it together and they don’t. And it’s okay if you can’t always keep it together.
But if you can do anything that might make it a little easier, then you might as well give it a shot. Right?