This article was originally published in our Winter 2013 Issue.
When I first starting writing tips for military families I worried I wouldn’t have enough to keep writing for long but now it’s difficult to keep a lid on all that I would recommend. To stay connected with your children, I believe it isn’t always the large gestures, big holidays or huge moments that connect you with your family – they are a part of it, but it’s usually the little things you can do every day that will help bridge the gaps and build a lasting foundation for your family to love one another and grow together. These top tips will work whether you are experiencing a deployment, reunion, move, IR, or just daily life!
- Ask questions – you don’t know if you don’t ask. Ask questions everyday, in different ways and don’t get discouraged if you all you get is a nod or grunt in your direction. Try not to react to their response, just listen. If you don’t understand their response, tell them. Don’t let silence intimate you; give them time to answer rather than doing it for them.
- Be honest – we ask our children to tell us the truth, be honest with us but we don’t always reciprocate. You have to model this openness and honesty for them. You have to give a little to get a little. You aren’t their friend but you do have to tell it to them straight. Don’t confuse criticism with honesty. Try to stick to facts rather than opinions. Take time or ask for more time to think carefully about your responses. If you don’t know, admit you don’t. Kids love it when we aren’t perfect.
- Be organized – being organized is essential to their survival and yours! Your children’s minds are disorganized at the best of times; don’t let their environment be too. When you have no idea whether you’re coming or going it’s difficult to communicate, then you all feel a sense of discomfort and there won’t be time to do the things you want to do together. Stay on top of what they are doing at school and their activities by using a family calendar where everyone can see what is happening and what demands are on people. Clean out family areas so there is a sense of calm. Staying organized will help you all feel better and give you the time and space to talk about what really matters.
- Set boundaries – you have limits and your kids should know what they are. If they don’t know your limits, communication will be challenging as they will be constantly testing your boundaries rather than talking about the things that matter. Think of your boundaries much like a prison wall – they are not easy to climb, breakdown or move. Take time each day to ask each other “what if” questions so you can get a sense of their thinking too. Ask them about their friends and why they think their friends have limits too. Explain your limits once – do not fall into the trap of having to justify yourself constantly.
- Make Fun Kits – This kit is for those times when deep down you still all love each other…but you can’t stand the sight of each other or are feeling as though another minute of whining/complaining/demanding will destroy you all. Create a kit (in advance) that is designed to lighten the mood, remind you of happier moments and get back to a sane level of communication. In your kit you could have things like your favourite junk food, DVDs, small gift certificate to iTunes, a new book or magazine, new pajamas, a poster, something to pamper yourselves with.
- Hide Notes – Put notes in their drawers, bags, lunch, clothes, etc. It is a great way to surprise them and give your kids a personal boost. This is particularly helpful when a family member is absent. They can write and hide them in advance. Hiding them in seasonal gear or things that only get used every now and again is also helpful so that they aren’t always found at once. Get a funky coloured or decorated pad of paper so they will know when they find one, it is from the absent parent. Make sure the notes aren’t too embarrassing so if others read them it won’t create another problem. The soon-to-be absent parent could also create a whole pad of notes ahead of time and the remaining parent could tear them off and hide them regularly.
- Make Lists – It is important to always keep your family dreaming, goal setting and planning for their short and long term future. A fun way to do this and great way to start great conversations is to make lists. Consider making family lists such as: top five jobs you would never want to do, top 20 songs you think should never be sung again, 10 places you would love to spend a holiday, top five foods we should eat once a week, 10 best movies ever made, 10 things we want to do in the next month, etc.
- Unbirthdays – Everyone often waits for a special occasion to all get together and spend some quality time together. Rather than waiting for those holidays or special events – make your own. Yours will probably be less time consuming, stressful and hectic. Have a cake, make a special dinner, take pictures of each other, email your photos to others that can’t be with you, give everyone in your family a ‘just because card’. Get creative!
- Best on the Block – Make your house the place that friends like coming to. Military life means that your children will be making new and different friends several times over. It’s important that you get to know who is influencing your children. You don’t need to make your house the one without rules or structure just the house that everyone feels welcome and comfortable coming to. You can often get more information out of friends with no filters than your own children. Create an area in your house that is considered theirs with the understanding that you will be coming by/through/in and out of whenever the mood strikes you. Remember your sense of humour with their friends and pick your battles. Spring for a pizza or some treats – food will always be something they will come home and stay home for.
- Get them in the car – The car continues to be one of the best places to talk to your children. You drive; they put away their phones or electronic devices and turn down the radio. When you have conversations where you do not always have to look the person in the eye – the scenery out the window is changing, they can’t always see your reaction to what they are saying – the conversation will flow much easier. Offer to take them to the mall or for ice cream across town, take the longer route or just take a wrong turn or two.
For more useful tips visit our website: www.whileyouwereaway.org . All of these tips and more can be found in “101 Tips for Military Families with Teens”.
By: Megan Egerton
Megan is a military wife, educator and mother of two children. Her books, tips and resources are used by families, world wide.
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