Inside: Discover programs, products and free resources to help military kids get through a parent’s military deployment. These are the best deployment resources for military kids.
No matter their age, military kids may struggle during deployment. Some act sad and lonely when they miss their deployed parent. Other times, military children misbehave or act out because they can’t adjust to the massive stress and changes that deployment brings.
Thankfully, military kids don’t have to go through deployment alone! These products, programs, services, and gifts are all designed to support military children during deployment. Some products must be purchased. Others are completely free to military families. Check out our extensive list of deployment resources for military kids. See which ones will be most helpful to your child during a military deployment.
Something to hold.
Operation Kid Comfort Quilts: This Armed services YMCA program provides military children with a free, personalized quilt during their first deployment. Families submit photographs of the child with their service member parent. The photos transfer onto fabric and sew into beautiful keepsake quilts. Some military spouses keep them hanging by a baby’s bed to keep Daddy’s face in sight. Kids like to snuggle in them and feel like they are getting a hug from their deployed parent.
Battalion Buddies: These camo-wearing teddy bears from Operation Gratitude are available for free to military kids, to give them something to hug during deployment. You can order the bears as a group shipment by the unit’s rear detachment or family readiness officer.
Bearegards stuffed animals are customizable plush toys that can be designed to match any military branch. Each animal comes with a recordable voice chip, so the deploying parent can record a short message to their child. These comfort items were designed by an Air Force officer specifically to help military children during long separations.
Cuddletunes Bears: These stuffed animals come with a built-in sound chip that connects to an app on your phone. A service member can record messages and songs before they deploy… or use the app to change and update messages during deployment! Military kids will feel closer to their deployed parent when they hear their voice.
Sgt. Sleeptight is a stuffed animal that protects kids and helps them sleep better during deployments and military training missions. The bears can be customized to wear uniforms from different branches. Each bear comes with an oath and a door tag to help children feel more secure.
Picture Pillows from Pillow Project USA gives military children a free pillow with their service member’s picture printed on it. They are available to active duty families whose service member deploys at least three months. This is a comforting way to keep a deployed parent present at bedtime.
Daddy dolls: This customizable doll features the full-length image of their service member on a plush toy. You can include a printed message on the doll too. These are great for very young children to be able to carry around their deployed parent and take them to every-day activities. Prices are based on size and customization. You can also make your own daddy doll using this tutorial.
Little Patriots Embraced wants to send a care package to all military kids going through a deployment. The free gift contains a teddy bear, quilt, and journal to help comfort them. You can sign your family up for the care package by completing a form on their website.
Troop on the Stoop: This gift box contains a book and plush toy of a soldier that will help comfort a military child during deployment. Developed by a veteran who wanted to help military kids adjust, this is a great ‘battle buddy’ for any military child.
Dog Tags for Kids: This organization allows service members to customize dog tags and have them sent to their children during deployment… for free. It’s a small, simple gift the service member can send in a letter, but it means the world to kids to receive something personal from their deployed parent!
Something to read.
United Through Reading: This free program from the USO allows service members to make a video of them reading a book to their child. The USO then mails the video with the book to their family, so you can enjoy it any time throughout the deployment. With USO locations throughout the world, including overseas combat areas and Navy ships, service members can use this program either before or during a deployment.
Caribu app: This reading app combines on-screen books with the power of real-time video, to connect children with adults who are far away. This can be useful for a deployed service member with internet access, and it can also help military kids connect with distant grandparents. Although the app is not designed specifically for military families, they do offer a military discount.
Recordable books: Many books from Hallmark stores or other large retailers include a recordable voice chip. A service member can record themselves reading before the deployment begins. Then the child can enjoy hearing their parent’s voice whenever they turn the pages.
Military-themed books: Some of the best children’s books to read during deployment are written by military spouses or active duty parents. There are currently more than 75 children’s books on the topic of deployment and military service. Many are sold on Amazon or available at base libraries. You can see this list of books for military kids that discuss deployment, separation, an active duty Mom, or a wounded service member parent.
Something to see or do.
Sesame Street workshops: Military One Source has partnered with Sesame Street to provide free online activities and DVD’s to help young military kids talk about deployment. The program is called Sesame Street’s Talk, Listen, and Connect.
Visual countdown tool: Children don’t have a good grasp of time, so telling them that deployment will last for six more months, or that Dad won’t be home until after their birthday doesn’t really register to them. It helps them to see time progressing. You can do this in simple ways like a jar full of marbles to represent the days of the deployment. Or a “kiss a day” (Hershey kiss) while their parent is gone. You can also make a visual calendar on the wall, marking holidays and milestones, so they can see how much longer they have to wait until Homecoming. There is a simple downloadable countdown kit from the Seasoned Spouse.
Free coloring and activity pages from Brat Town Bugle can help kids cope with deployment and open up to discussing their feelings, especially during deployment holidays. Download them and print them out for free from this fun military kid newsletter.
Homecoming Box: This is an ongoing deployment project for the military child and their deployed parent. Each one collects memories, photos, drawings, etc to share with each other after deployment. It’s a good way for a child to feel connected to their missing parent, and the guide book has suggestions for discussing deployment emotions.
Operation Teammate: Military children are invited to become an honorary team member for a day of a college or professional sports team, at locations around the country. Children of all military branches, as well as first responders, may participate. Teammates go behind the scenes, meet the athletes, and get to spend time connecting with them.
Respite Childcare: Some YMCA locations offer occasional free childcare to military families during deployment. Whether it is one night per month or several hours each week, this program allows children to participate in fun activities while their parent or caregiver gets a much-needed break. You must complete an eligibility form through Military One Source before participating.
Kids Bowl Free is available on many military bases, whether or not families are experiencing a deployment. During the summer, the program grants military kids two free bowling games every day! You must use the vouchers at participating locations, so check if your base bowling alley participates. There is a similar program, Kids Skate Free, for bases with a roller skating rink nearby.
National Guard and Reservist families can receive grants for children’s activities through Our Military Kids. The program recognizes that these families often live far from base resources, and may need additional help participating in local sports, dance, or art classes. Grants allow them to participate in activities that will help relieve stress during a deployment.
The USO offers a wide range of resources to military families. During deployment, military kids may enjoy the local USO library, story time, and holiday events.
Programs on base.
Moms Day Out: This program is sponsored by Operation Help a Hero (OHH) or similar volunteer organizations near major military bases. They volunteer to run a day camp on base that is open to children who have a deployed parent. Teams of adults bring supplies like bounce houses, food, and outdoor toys to make it a fun day for kids. While the kids enjoy camp, their parent goes out and does something that relaxes or rejuvenates them. For some spouses, this is their only kid-free day during a long deployment!
Operation Hero: This ASYMCA after-school program is for military children in grades 2-8. Not only does it give them free tutoring and help with homework, but it also provides a discussion group so that kids can interact with others their age going through a deployment. The program is available at some military base schools at large bases around the country.
FOCUS program: Your base Family center may offer free classes to help kids during deployment. FOCUS stands for Families OverComing Under Stress. It is a 10-week program to help military families communicate their feelings more effectively to handle stressful situations in military life. It is especially useful for young children during deployment to help them express all they are going through.
An MFLC (Military Family Life Counselor) is a professional social worker or psychologist attached to deployed military units on most major bases. An MFLC provides free, confidential counseling to military family members. It can be a great resource for parents who feel overwhelmed, or for young children who are acting out during deployment.
Camp and Classes.
Armed Services YMCA: The ASYMCA offers several camps and classes to assist military kids during deployment. At some locations near military bases, they provide outdoor summer camps like Operation Outdoors and Camp Hero to provide learning opportunities and fun activities to military kids.
Camp Yellow Ribbon in East Troy, WI, is a summer camp specifically for kids whose parent is currently deployed or recently returned from deployment. With a week of outdoor fun and traditional camp activities, the program helps military kids cope with deployment and celebrate military life. This free program is open to families from all branches.
Operation Purple Camps: Sponsored by the National Military Family Association at locations around the country, these camps are open to military kids with a deployed parent. It’s a free week of summer camp, open to children from all branches and ranks, to help them deal with the stresses of deployment.
Horses for Heroes runs Operation Free Ride to provide free weekly riding lessons to families with a deployed service member. This is one of their many programs to make horseback riding more available to military families. It’s especially those who deploy or suffer from a service-related injury.
Operation We Are Here lists numerous activities, programs, and camps available to military children. Many are only in one location, but some programs are nation-wide. Check their extensive listings to find military programs near you.
I didn’t expect it. Afterall, we’ve been here before. In fact, we were just here. We’ve done the deployment farewells, the countdowns, the epic homecomings. We’ve made paperchains and welcome home signs, we’ve Skyped on birthdays, ordered Daddy Dolls, and for a military family, to a degree, this deployment just felt like another little stepping stone in our journey.
After nearly ten years of marriage, four deployments and plenty of farewells, if I’m being honest, I was fairly apathetic about this one. I knew where he was going, knew there would be internet, and in the midst of two kids in school and work and life, I kept telling friends and family and even myself: “It is what it is. No big deal. We’ve done this before.”
But nothing I could have told myself would have prepared me for this one.
It was a mostly normal Wednesday.
The sun was shining, the kids went to school, my husband and I went to Costco for some last minute items, and then I folded laundry as I watched him pack for the better part of the next year.
We picked up our two kids early from school, and I think my five year old was more upset about missing his little basketball club than my husband leaving. During lunch together, we talked about how we’d spend our time apart and how we’d make sure we continued to grow together. We reminisced about the last few weekends and the “most funnest” things we’ve done, with hopes that the memories of times together would be enough to last until the summer.
And then we waited.
With a commercial flight not until 7:00 that evening, I was initially so thankful for “one more day” together. The truth is, it felt like it lasted a year; like we were belaboring the goodbye and dragging out the inevitable.
When it was finally time to leave for the airport, we drove slowly, hands intertwined, tears in our eyes. The irony of wanting the day to hurry up only to wish it would slow down wasn’t lost on me. Our six year old daughter had already started to cry, and our son sat quietly, not saying much.
There are times as a mom you look at your kids and marvel at how big they’ve become. And then there are times like these, in which you catch a glimpse in the rearview mirror and can’t help but feel like they look so small — too small to be saying goodbye to their dad, again.
We parked the car and headed inside, finding unfamiliar territory as our little family usually travels together. As a Navy family, saying goodbye at the pier is one thing. The pomp and circumstance don’t necessarily temper the difficulty of the farewell, but there’s strength in looking around and seeing countless families in the journey together. Strangers, united in sacrifice, experiencing the same roller coaster of emotions: Pride in the service and sadness in the separation.
But on a quiet Wednesday night in Virginia, save a curious onlooker sitting with a cup of coffee and a newspaper, we were the only ones outside Concourse B. We held each other tight and said our goodbyes through an unrelenting stream of tears. My heart was in my throat watching our daughter clutch him so tightly, softly saying to, “Go save the world, Daddy. Make it a better place.”
Our son, still somewhat aloof, gave him one more squeeze, and I gave him one more hug, one more “Be safe,” and one more kiss. As we wiped tears and held hands, we watched him walk away toward security. Finally understanding what was happening, our son took off running, wailing, “Daddy please don’t leave! Daddy NO! Daddy PLEASE!” He caught him just in time, and my husband turned around, bent over, and scooped our little boy into his arms. My daughter and I caught up to them, and the four of us stood outside TSA, sobbing.
My husband finally left.
And as I knelt on the floor of the airport holding my babies, I caught a glimpse of the stranger with his coffee. I noticed he was feverishly wiping his own tears, somehow understanding that this wasn’t just a quick business trip. Seventeen years into war, in a world where it often feels like the sacrifices of our military families is forgotten, holding his gaze somehow made me feel like this goodbye was appreciated, understood, and even respected.
With four little arms still wrapped around my neck, two little blonde heads buried on my shoulders, I whispered words of comfort, of strength, and of love, hoping I too would believe them. “We can do this. We will be strong together. We are brave.”
You did it! The end of deployment is in sight and you are finally ready to put together your last set of deployment care package ideas. I like to call this ‘the coming home soon’ care package.
I love the last care package of a deployment because of what it represents: after months of separation, it’s one of the last steps before my husband comes home.
There is something incredibly satisfying about taping that last box shut and filling out that last customs form. It’s when you can finally let yourself get excited about homecoming!
But as excited as you are, you also know that you don’t want to break the bank on this homecoming care package.
Saving money on a homecoming care package.
Maybe you’re saving for something fun when your spouse comes home or maybe Murphy’s Law struck over the past few months and you had some unexpected expenses. Whatever the reason, remember that your last deployment care package idea does not have to be expensive to be meaningful.
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1. Pick a fun theme and care package design.
Decorating your care package makes it extra special without adding a lot of expensive items. The extra time and attention you spend on your box helps it convey just how excited you are for homecoming.
Homecoming care package themes could be sassy sayings or puns, like “orange you glad deployment is almost over.” They could also focus on your hometown or an upcoming vacation. You can purchase your care package decorations online or try your hand at decorating it yourself. If you do go the DIY route, be careful because the cost of supplies could really add up quickly!
2. Send what you already have.
I look for deployment care package ideas every single time I’m at the store, picking up extra items when they’re on sale or back in stock. By the last care package, I have enough extra supplies to fill a box without even stepping foot in a store.
If you’re anything like me, odds are you’ve also collected a stash of care package goodies. While it may be tempting to run out and get all sorts of fun items, make use of that stash and fill your last care package right from your own house. This keeps you from spending extra money and helps you clean out your pantry!
3. Skip over-shopping.
If you do need to buy things for your homecoming care package, don’t go overboard. This is your last care package of deployment so only purchase what you’re able to send in this last box. Your loved one’s time away is limited so they likely don’t need as many snacks or toiletries as they did during the first month of deployment. Keep that in mind when shopping, even though I’m sure they’d LOVE the extra package of cookies.
Be as strategic as possible with your last care package by selecting contents that your loved one will both enjoy and use before returning home. Smaller versions of their favorite items (including individual snack packs or travel-sized toiletries) will still be appreciated, but either get used during the remaining time overseas or fit nicely into a backpack for the journey home.
Your last care package is also a great time to send some useful travel items; mini toiletries, a sleep mask or earplugs are inexpensive items that will definitely come in handy as your loved one begins their journey home.
5. Sending a smaller box.
I am a major fan of the large flat rate box for sending care packages, but filling them can get pricey! Sending a smaller box (like a medium or small flat rate box) reduces shipping cost and forces you to send fewer items. You can still decorate these smaller boxes and fill them with thoughtful items, but they’ll be cheaper!
6. Pay attention to shipping deadlines.
If your loved one is preparing to return home, they should have a mail cutoff date. Pay attention to and respect that date so that your care package has the best chance of making it to them before they head home. All of your cost-saving steps won’t matter if your loved one never actually gets their homecoming care package.
Homecoming care packages are so exciting because they mean the end of deployment is near, but don’t let your excitement convince you to break the bank. There are quite a few ways to save money on these last care packages without taking away from the impact of the box. Enjoy creating this last care package and then turn your attention to homecoming!
Inside: Learn the biggest reason why kids engage in power struggles. Plus, get 3 simple strategies to fix them.
The past few weeks, my son wakes up in the morning and immediately bursts into tears. I’m usually awake for about three minutes before I start cringing. I thought there would be more peace, more tranquility, or at least a little less instantaneous sobbing.
In our house, I often joke that someone is always crying. And of course, it’s a bit of an exaggeration, but some days it feels like it!
I get down on my knees, look to my son, and he cries out, “I don’t want to go to school. I want to watch TV!”
This child would watch TV all day, every day if I allowed it. He loves it. Absolutely hands down is the first thing he’d choose if given a choice.
I look over to him and empathize. “Of course you don’t want to go to school! You’d much rather stay home and watch TV. YOU LOVE TV!”
He repeats back to me, this time stomping his feet, “I don’t want to go to school. I want to watch TEEEVEEEE!”
I used to grow lion mane every time my kids would engage in a power struggle with me. They’d push back and I’d push back harder. Whoever brings the biggest roar wins, right? We’d wrestle with words until we ran out of energy. And in the end, no one won or got what they wanted.
Through my Language of Listening® training, power struggles started to make a lot more sense when I learned that all kids have three healthy needs: power, experience and connection.
At their core, power struggles are always about meeting a need for power. Which means, when a child is digging their heels into all these unfavorable behaviors, s/he is likely feeling powerless.
It was the one puzzle piece missing from my 1,000 piece jigsaw.
Once I found that piece, I was able to transform the way I handle power struggles…in 3 simple steps.
1. Connect first, so your child can HEAR you.
Without connecting to your child, it’s impossible to share any guidance and have your child hear you. This is why SAY WHAT YOU SEE®, the first part of Language of Listening, is so powerful.
This is the step of connection, where you literally SAY what you are SEEing without teaching, fixing, questions or judgement. It’s as easy as it gets.
“Of course you don’t want to go to school! You’d much rather stay home and watch TV. YOU LOVE TV!”
If we skip this step and go straight into trying to set boundaries and trying to control our children or even to get them to see how great they are…it can fall flat.
You can save so much energy by skipping, “You love school! Who needs TV when you can go to school and play with your friends? Turn that frown upside down. C’mon now.” A child engaged in a power struggle can’t hear any of that. It’s like white noise.
When you stop and SAY WHAT YOU SEE, you immediately connect with your child and enter the neutral zone. When you begin to see that everything your children say and do is important to them, the guidance will become so, so easy. It changes everything.
2. Know what you really want out of it.
With power struggles, it’s easy to fall into the belief that there is one winner and one loser in each struggle. I used to feel like I was in this war battle with my kids and I needed to win. I am mama bear — hear. me. roar. But the truth is winning only happens when both the parent and child are on the same team and they both win.
I had to focus on one thing: What did I really want? As in, big picture, what would be a win for me?
When I thought about what I really wanted, everything became a lot easier. I wanted my kids to go to school. I wanted my kids to sit at the dinner table for 10 minutes without saying, “That’s yuck!” I wanted my kids to show kindness to others. And I wanted my kids to go to bed early so I could watch all the adult shows and eat the secret snacks.
Knowing what you really want will free you from a lot of power struggles within power struggles. If I wanted my son to go to school in the morning, then I was going to have to let go of some of the things he wanted leading up to it. Things like playing with me before we left the house, choosing what he wanted for breakfast (within nutritional reason) and wearing mismatched clothes.
If your child needs power, it’s okay to give power.
Power is a healthy need. We all have it. If you SEE something you don’t like, you name a CAN DO — an alternative to something the child can do to meet his or her need for power. This is another part of the 3-part Language of Listening framework.
You can meet your child’s need for power in all sorts of creative ways. Kids come up with the best ideas. And if you’re willing to listen, they will tell you how they want to meet their need for power in the face of a boundary.
All you need to do is SAY WHAT YOU SEE and add in the CAN DO phrase:
“Of course you don’t want to go to school! You’d much rather stay home and watch TV. YOU LOVE TV! Hmmm…there must be something we can do about this!”
You can share any CAN DO that would work within your parenting boundaries. Or you can see what your child comes up with, check with yourself, and then decide if that would work.
Oddly, my oldest comes up with the most surprising ways to meet his need for power. The other morning he wanted all of us to walk down the stairs with him going first because he needed to be first. And then he wanted to finish his breakfast first and buckle his seatbelt first. He needed power in other ways, so he could go off to school (a decision that he likely feels powerless over).
When you see your child meeting their need for power in a way that works for everyone, you can name a STRENGTH (the third part of Language of Listening).
Naming a STRENGTH always comes from something the child did, so it’s never fluff or empty praise. It’s grounded in observation and true things that happened.
“Going first is important to you. You know what works for you.”
“You did this. You went to school even though you didn’t want to. You found a way to make it work.”
You anchor the behavior in a way that the child can identify with it. It becomes who they areand their future actions are based out of it. The more you name the behaviors you like, the more your child will show you that behavior. This is the critical piece of why STRENGTHs work so well.
Each morning my son complains that he’d rather watch TV than go to school. It’s only natural for him to express his displeasure and let me know how important TV is for him.
And each morning I’m thankful for Language of Listening for giving me the tools I needed. Tools to help me avoid dragging my kids kicking and screaming to school. Tools to help me avoid bringing out my lion mane and roar. Tools that create more peace, connection and maybe even a little tranquility while he’s putting on his mismatched outfit.
My in-laws were recently here visiting us in Japan, which meant it was time for another round of our son sleeping in our room again. My husband and I had a whole plan of action ready to go. He would sleep in our bed.
This seemed like a great idea, but I was secretly dreading it. I know some parents are great at co-sleeping and room sharing. I’m the opposite. I’m not good at it at all.
It’s one of those areas I wish I were so much more patient as a parent. You know? I wish that I was cool with our son laying in our bed poking my eyes out and kicking me in the face. Hardy har har. But the truth is both my husband and I last about 2 minutes flat before we’ve had enough.
Our first night.
So here we were on our first night of bed sharing, and it was not going well. I was actually really surprised by this. I went through our son’s normal bedtime routine, using our printable routine cards and easing him into the whole idea. And then, I laid him down the same way I always do, said goodnight, and exited the room. Nothing new. The only change was a new location and a new bed.
What happened next…
The child was mad, hysterical, and completely beside himself. I decided to give it a few minutes to see if he would settle himself. No go.
After a bit of time, my husband and I finally decided to just bring him back out into the living room to chill for a bit. Normally, we wouldn’t do that but since he was so ramped up, our little boy clearly needed a cooling off period.
30 minutes later we went through a modified bedtime routine and laid him back down.
Oh the CRIES. He was still very unhappy about all of this. So I decided it was time to pull out all the stops and use the one trick I knew would work.
The one simple trick…
I went back to his room, turned on his gummy bear light, and picked him up again. I gave him a big giant hug, put his head to my shoulder, and sat us down together on my bed.
And then I started with the deep breathing..
In and out.
In and out.
Taking my own multiple deep breaths in a row, my sweet boy started to take his own deep breaths.
I took a deep breath.
Then he took a deep breath.
In and out.
In and out.
This isn’t something that I coach or tell him to do. All I do is take deep breaths myself, and then he follows. You see, deep breathing is just like yawning. It’s contagious! And it’s a completely subconscious cause and effect rhythm that you can fall into with your child.
When hugging or cuddling in a way that is natural for you and your child, the deep breathing becomes contagious between you. All you have to do is start the rhythm and your child will pick up on it. This technique is something you can use at any age. I’ve actually used it since my kids were infants.
10 minutes later…
Normally, we don’t spend this long deep breathing together, but this was a special circumstance. By now, we were 10 minutes into the deep breathing and he was practically melted into my body. I laid him down back on the floor mattress, keeping my hand firmly placed on his back to help him know I was right there. I told him I would stay with him until he fell asleep. And before I knew it, he was snuggled in tight and nearly asleep.
The next night…
I simply opted to start right off the bat with the deep breathing routine. After 5-10 minutes of deep breathing in a hugging position, I again laid him down, keeping my hand on his back. I again told him I would stay until he fell asleep. After a bit, I removed my hand and just sat next to him in the bed. Total time invested? Only about 15 minutes longer than his normal bedtime routine. Sweet boy.
The night after that…
5 minutes worth of deep breathing and he was practically jumping out of my arms to get in that bed. It was too sweet for words.
Why deep breathing actually works with kids.
The effect of deep breathing helps slow both your own heart rate and your child’s heart rate, which allows the body to relax and slow down. You can literally feel your heart rate slow down, your mind get quieter, and your whole body physically relax. You can literally feel your child’s heart rate slow down, as they start to relax and melt right into you. This is why I always do the deep breathing in a hugging position. It washes over you and your child like a calming, relaxing sleepytime medicine.
I often use this technique with my sweet little boy and wonder, “Is it really that simple?”
When all of parenting feels so overly complicated and stressful, it’s pretty amazing that something like deep breathing is the fix to a bedtime issue.
sometimes kids just need their moms,
and a big giant hug,
and a few deep breaths to go along with it.
Print this free toddler sleep help checklist.
This post comes with a free printable checklist to help your little ones sleep. I always have the hardest time remembering all these ideas. This printable simplifies it!
I had this dream once. My strong willed toddler woke up and the entire day there wasn’t a single tear shed. It was a totally awesome dream. Unfortunately, most days that dream is a far cry from reality. Raising a spirited toddler isn’t that easy.
Most days you probably see me walking from my car to the house carrying a toddler under my arm like a sausage. Can you visualize it? Toddler under one arm. Three bags of groceries in the other. He’s crying.
You’re not going to believe this, but he’s mad that I won’t let him drive the car. Yep, he’s two going on 30, and he wants to drive. He wants to sit in the driver’s seat and turn the wheel, turn on the wipers, beep the horn and flash the lights.
It’s kind of adorable unless you have somewhere to be on time, of course.
Or unless random men start yelling at you for letting your kid play with the lights because “he’s going to break something, and he’s going to cause your battery to die.” Yeah. Thanks random dude. Moms never think of that stuff.
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In addition to carrying around a crying toddler (over driving of all things!), you probably saw me in the elevator with him too. He was laying on the elevator floor sobbing his little eyes out. In case you’re wondering, he’s still upset over not being able to drive.
I’m sure you can imagine what I was thinking. I thought about how embarrassing it was to have a toddler throwing an epic meltdown in public. I thought about how everyone was looking at me, wondering what in the world possessed this child to throw such a temper tantrum.
The days of raising a spirited toddler.
These are the days I pray that onlookers don’t think I’m the world’s worst mom. I pray they know that I empathize with my toddler’s very big emotions more than anyone. I pray they know I really am trying here.
Raising a spirited toddler will do that to you—encourage you to pray. Encourage you to try harder. And motivate you to empathize. Parenting a spirited toddler forces you to see things through the eyes of a little boy who just wants to be like mommy. A little boy who just wants to live life like a free spirit.
He wants to climb on the counter.
Throw food in the air.
Pee on the floor.
Eat a little bit of dirt every once and a while.
You know, the good stuff?
Most days a raising spirited child will test your patience to no end. You will do all the right things: Convey empathy and patience, use positive parenting, offer choices yet firm consequences, limit screen time, play intentionally and so much more.
Some days are tough though. You do all the right things, and still there are temper tantrums and epic meltdowns. Most of course are reserved only for moments in public when everyone is watching you. The grocery store. The bank. You know, places where lot of people are watching?
Those are the days you become a resilient mom. When you become more patient than you ever imagined. You quietly pick up your toddler, empathizing with his desire to buy candy and what not…
“Believe me. I really wish we could buy candy right now too buddy. It’s hard.”
The whole time you’re secretly thinking, mommy could really use some candy right now. Seriously, just one bite of a king size Snickers would really help. Yeah, I’ve so been there. More times than I wish actually.
You can do all the right things, parent like a champ, channel your mommy warrior and be the best that you can be, and your toddler still will only listen some of the time. Your strong willed child still will behave imperfectly and throw bedtime tantrums sometimes because that is what toddlers do. They are learning and testing to understand the world. They have big emotions because when life is new, everything is a big deal.
Really, it’s normal.
Stay strong, mama.
Today my spirited toddler and I are going to come home from running errands. Today again he will want to sit in the front seat, ‘start’ the car, and push all the fun buttons. He will want to do all the fun stuff that mommy does.
And today I’m going to let him.
He’s going to be the happiest kid in the world for 10 minutes while he turns the radio on and off, ‘drives’ the steering wheel, flashes the lights, and turns the wipers on. Some random guy is probably going to yell at me, and I’m going to tell him to go away and be quiet.
And when it’s time to go inside my sweet, sweet spirited child going to scream his little head off. I’m going to carry him inside like a sausage under my arm with three bags of groceries my other hand, and people are going to stare and watch. He will probably cry in the elevator too. It’s okay.
Because that is what raising a spirited toddler is like sometimes.
And moms help them pick up the pieces and carry them home.
Print this free toddler listening checklist.
This post comes with a free printable checklist to help with toddler listening. I always have the hardest time remembering these phrases. This printable simplifies it!
Here is a sneak preview…
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Print. Any paper will do the trick, but card stock would be ideal.
Place it on your refrigerator. Check things off as you go and don’t forget a thing!
I’m probably the last person who wants to make a distinction between parenting toddler boys versus girls. There are too many gender stereotypes that create foreshadowing in life.
Boys play with trucks. Girls play with dolls.
Boys wear blue. Girls wear pink.
Boys are rough. Girls are gentle.
Sometimes we use these stereotypes to explain why kids are the way they are (when in reality every kid is a unique individual).
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Sometimes we even use these stereotypes to inadvertently mold our children into them, which is the main reason I think we are all pushing for more gender neutral toys and trying our darnedest not to influence what a kid likes or doesn’t like.
I get it.
I tried long and hard to avoid listening to the phrase, “Oh, he’s such a boy.”
If you parent a toddler boy for long enough, you start to realize that there are a few things that are awfully boyish about boys. You hear it time and time again over the years—“Oh, he’s ALL boy.”
And I what finally decided to do was this — embrace the stereotypical boy characteristics and go with it.
I gave up trying to prevent my toddler boy from climbing on things that were slightly risky. We go to the beach, and I let him climb on rocks that other parents might gasp at.
I let him stand on toys and stools to reach things higher up.
I let him climb atop the the playground equipment, trees and dirt piles that are perceived as “beyond his age”, and I stand by to see if he needs me.
Embrace the jump, throw and wrestle…
I let him jump on the bed and bounce around. I started letting him hop off curbs and picnic benches and playground equipment.
We even throw balls in the house. We try to keep it within reason, but indoor hockey, soccer and catch are not entirely off limits in our home.
Roughhousing with kids is a great way to release energy and build a physical connection and emotional bond with your child. We embrace the roughhousing and wrestling around here.
Why embrace it all?
This is actually something Clare Caro put beautifully into words when she talked about schemas recently.
I had no idea what they were until she explained that “it’s really a fancy word for the urges that children have to do things like climb, throw things and hide in small places.“
In her post, Schemas in Children’s Play, she shares all the different urges children have and how to nurture them. I decided to give it a whirl.
Three things happened.
Part of what you learn is that embracing the urges—in a safe and responsible way—is vital towards helping our children thrive. These impulsive actions help children learn and understand the world around them.
1. He learned what climbing, jumping, throwing, and wrestling actually felt like.
He learned what those experiences actually involved. Allowing him to just go ahead, have at it, and experience those things quelled his urge to attempt them incessantly.
2. He learned the cause and effect of those actions.
He learned that when you jump from too high, you can fall and it hurts. Again, I let him fall down within reason. Bumps, bruises and scraps are part of our everyday home life. If true risk is present, he is coached towards how to make a safer choice or how to keep his body safe.
3. He became safer.
He developed his own watchful eye for which type of climb was safe and which type was too high or dangerous. More often than not, child will set exactly the right level of challenge for themselves. Kids aren’t able to make a safety judgment call correctly all the time.
But more and more, if you trust your kids, they will show you the right level of challenge for themselves. Often he is able to make better judgment calls when it comes to safety.
When we left Okinawa early this fall, we had no idea what was in store for us. Turns out, there would be some relocation challenges.
After traveling for a month, we landed in California and learned it would be an additional 2.5 months before the military had a house available for us. Since this is common situation out here, all the furnished month-to-month rentals were also taken.
We were desperate to find something.
Lucky for us, an ant-infested 400 square foot cabin was available with carpet that turned our feet black. It wasn’t exactly what we had in mind, but we accepted the challenge knowing it was a temporary situation.
We lived there for about 5 weeks and literally counted down the days. My husband and I are all smiles now that we headed back home for Christmas and have a move in date for our base home, but I can assure you we ALL about lost. our. minds. in. that. cabin.
In the past few months we’ve stayed in 6 houses, 4 hotels, taken 3 flights and driven 30+ hours with our kids screaming in the backseat. In military life, we love to talk about resiliency. How we can tackle relocation challenges head on, move around the world at the drop of a hat, and make new friends like speed dating. But the truth is…it’s hard.
The Military Spouse’s Guide to Surviving Relocation
Through our challenges of moving from Okinawa back to the US, I’ve learned several important things about relocating together as a family.
Talk about it – out loud.
According to a brain imaging study by UCLA psychologist Matthew D. Lieberman, verbalizing our feelings makes our stress, sadness and frustration less intense.
“When you put feelings into words, you’re activating this prefrontal region and seeing a reduced response in the amygdala,” he said. “In the same way you hit the brake when you’re driving when you see a yellow light, when you put feelings into words, you seem to be hitting the brakes on your emotional responses.”
What Lieberman basically says is that if you’re able to share your feelings out loud, you’re better able to calm the emotional center (the amygdala) of your brain, enabling yourself to move forward calmly, rather than build resentment and explode later.
Talking about the move with each other seems small, but it’s a very big deal. Recognize how things are both similar and different to your previous duty station, especially if you have kids. They are looking for parents to help them make sense of the change. The more you talk out loud, the more you process.
Claim your space.
No matter where you’re living in the world, you want to make a space your own. Put up familiar items like family photos and keepsakes to make everything feel more like home. You can also decorate certain areas of your home just like you did at your previous duty station. You don’t have to do everything the same, but one or two rooms can offer an immense feeling of comfort and familiarity.
If you’re going to be without your belongings for some time, CORT Furniture Rental can immediately help your house feel like a home.
CORT has a long history of serving the needs of military families. Furniture rental is available in all 50 states as well as in more than 80 countries around the world. Furniture options include everything from individual pieces to furnishings for your entire home. You can order online for delivery in as little as 48 hours with professional setup. This makes life so much easier!
Jump right in.
One of the things we love to do after moving to a new duty station is host a dinner party or housewarming party. We refer to this as “jumping right in.”
We don’t like to wait for friendships or our support network to come to us. Instead we prefer to invite everyone over from my husband’s work and our neighborhood to start networking and building a support network right away.
Friendships and support are crucial to thriving through the ups and downs of military life. Jump right in and keep swimming.
Military life can surprise you.
When we left Okinawa and moved back to the US this fall, we had no idea what was in store for us. There were challenges, but there were so many people from our community that reached out and got us through it. Between talking about it out loud, claiming our space and jumping right in, it feels like everything is going to turn out alright.
Inside: Before becoming a military wife, you never realize what you’re getting into. Learn 7 things about military life after 10 years of military marriage.
My husband and I recently celebrated our 10 year anniversary. It’s hard to believe I’ve spent a decade as a military spouse.
I’ve come a long way since that first day I got my “dependent” ID card and went into the Commissary.
“Honey…” I said, “why is there a line of shopping carts all the way back to the freezer section?”
He didn’t know. He had never gone into the Commissary either. Turns out, we happened to enter on payday. It was an intimidating first experience, for sure!
Before we married, we spent seven years dating long-distance (it’s a long story, but let’s just say there were lots of deployments during that time.) Because of this long dating period, I thought I knew what I was getting into as a military wife.
Seriously, I had spent years thinking about it. I had visited his barracks, seen him deploy, attended military balls, and witnessed a few promotion ceremonies. I thought I knew the basics of military life.
Then we married, and I discovered that I knew nothing about being a military spouse.
When I become a milspouse, I didn’t expect…
1. How much time I would spend alone.
Sure, I knew there might be deployments in his future. He deployed three times while we were dating, so I thought I was used to it.
What I didn’t realize were that there were numerous other times he would be away from home: classes, training, TDY assignments, Duty, field ops, workups… the list goes on.
Even in non-deployable units, there are usually several days per month he isn’t home. I’ve adjusted to it now, but it was a shock during the first year.
2. That he would spend a whole career in the military.
By the time we married, my husband had already served seven years. With only one year remaining on his military contract, our plan was for him to get out and go back to school.
Then, the economy crashed and there was a hiring freeze in his field. We couldn’t afford housing on my income alone… so he re-enlisted. I didn’t “sign up” for a military marriage. We hadn’t planned to move our family all over the world for the next ten years. But that’s how it worked out.
3. How much the military would control our lives.
Seriously, this was an adjustment. You want me to carry around an ID card and show it every time I leave our house? Or get groceries? And you can’t tell me where we will be living two months from now because we are waiting for someone to fill out paperwork?
The military controls a lot in our life and our marriage. They determine where we live, how often I see my husband, and where our kids can go to school. Love it or hate it, that’s the milspouse life.
4. The diversity of the military community.
The military will open your eyes to the variety of people living in our country. Before we married, I only met a handful of military families. They were mostly white…and from Texas.
Now that we have spent time living on many military bases, I know that military spouses come in all colors, ages, sizes, and political beliefs. Never assume that someone believes the same thing as you, simply because you are both military spouses.
5. Milspouse generosity.
The military community can be your best support system during a deployment. Sure, we spouses can have drama… but a spouse is also the first person I call when a kid is sick, my car breaks down, or anything goes wrong at home.
People have amazed me with their generosity. Military wives reached out to me when I had deployment babies and volunteered to bring me meals, watch my kids, or mow the lawn. I once had an amazing friend who insisted on coming over to clean my house. That made a huge difference to a mom of three during a deployment.
6. That the kids can still have a good relationship with their deployed dad.
There was a time I was afraid my deployment babies would never know their dad. We took family photos before his combat deployments, just in case he never came home.
Now they are growing up and experiencing their third and fourth deployments as military kids. Amazingly, they all have a tight relationship with dad, despite how much time he has sent away. They joke together, play sports, and (when he’s around) do scouting activities together.
His recruiter promised that he would see the world. That bothered me for years, because he only ever visited Iraq and Afghanistan.
Then…we were incredibly lucky to get orders as a family to live in Rota, Spain. While the move was tough with three kids, the culture and travel opportunities there were amazing! We fell in love with Spain. (I even wrote a book about it called Welcome to Rota.)
While there, I got to visit several new countries, including Morocco. Between travel and deployments, he has now visited almost every continent in the world. Well played, recruiter, you were actually right.
Military life has been full of surprises. It wasn’t what I expected. In some ways it has been harder than I thought. But in many ways, it’s better than I ever imagined.
Inside: What are the best stocking stuffers for kids? Use these 35 ideas for under $10 to delight your kids while you grab a cup of coffee Christmas morning.
The holidays are magical. Making new memories, traditions (or not), time relaxing and enjoying family and friends, the smells, watching the smiles on your children’s faces…
But the holiday prep?
Now, that can be anything but magical. There is A LOT that goes into making the holidays magical for your family. The last thing you need is to stress out trying to come up with what to put in your child’s stockings.
Your kids wake up at the crack of dawn, crawl into your bed and poke at your eyes until you drag your tired body out of bed. After all, you were up until midnight wrapping presents.
It is magical, but I also like a little breathing room.
Which is why, I LOVE stocking stuffers for kids that are simple and easy! I like to grab a cup of coffee and breathe a little before the wrapping paper starts flying everywhere and I’ve got to start searching for batteries or putting together 100+ piece toys from Auntie Elaine.
35 Stocking Stuffers for Kids under $10
I’ve put together a list of affordable, fun, and practical stocking stuffers for kids all under $10 that will help keep your kids busy while you breathe a little! Your kids will love waking up to these treats on Christmas morning.
Note: Post contains affiliate links, which means if you make a purchase I will earn a small commission.
Practical in disguise:
Select a couple of items from this list and sneak them into their stocking. The bonus is you will likely need to buy these items for your child soon anyway.
Bring the cheer to your child on Christmas morning with these fun little goodies they will love. Out of all of these, the color bath dropz are the most popular. We give them to our kids every year…almost like a strange tradition.