Q: I'm a soldier getting ready to deploy overseas (again). Previous deployments have negatively impacted my relationship with my kids. My wife and I want to be proactive this time; do you have any suggestions?
Jim: I thank you for your service, and my heart goes out to your family. Life can be tough for military households, especially when one of the parents is deployed. But it is possible to have an influence at home when you're half a world away.
For example, use recorded messages. Before being deployed, make some videos of yourself reading stories to the kids, telling them you love them, encouraging them to obey Mom and so on. Many families also use Skype or similar technology to allow the deployed parent to interact with the family in real-time.
Also, spouses should consult and consort whenever possible. Even when you're overseas, you should talk about major decisions that will impact the family. Make sure the kids know that Mom and Dad are still making decisions together.
Families should also communicate in both directions. Mom can send Dad pictures of the kids and their artwork and school projects -- maybe even video clips of them in their everyday routine. At the same time, the family needs to hear from the deployed father, even if he just has the energy to say he's tired and will share more later. (These same principles apply when Mom is the one who's deployed.)
With a little work, a spouse at home can help keep the deployed parent at the center of the family, even from thousands of miles away. We have plenty of information for military households at FocusOnTheFamily.com.
Q: How do we encourage our preschooler to develop his strong penchant for fantasy and make-believe in a positive way? We see his lively imagination as a good thing, but we're also concerned to help him avoid extremes. Do you have any advice?
Danny Huerta, Vice President, Parenting and Youth: Imagination can help your child come up with creative solutions to problems throughout life, including boredom. It's fun to watch kids imagine -- and even join in!
A healthy imagination will motivate a child to launch out into the world and learn about it with curiosity and confidence, rather than with fear. You can help stimulate this kind of exploration by encouraging your child to ask questions, take part in family conversations and engage with good books. Reading prompts us to visualize the story in our own minds, which engages the imagination.
Pretending to be a positive character, and creating his own adventures, can be exciting and helpful to your son's development. But if he imagines being the villain, don't panic; that's normal (especially for boys). Keep your eyes and ears open for inappropriate characters (e.g., relentless evildoers), destructive scenarios, or an emphasis on themes that are best left until adolescence or beyond. Help redirect the play toward a story line that fits the values in your home.
You also need to help your preschooler understand the difference between truth and make-believe on a day-to-day basis. With so much to learn about the world, and so much going on inside his head, the boundaries between reality and fantasy can wear thin at times. Your son should learn that imagination is like TV -- you can't have it on all the time. Help him learn appropriate times for imagination to be flowing. Balance is always good to learn, even with imagination.
Here at Focus on the Family, we believe in the "theater of the mind" and produce the "Adventures in Odyssey" audio dramas to encourage character development; see whitsend.org. You can also visit us online at focusonthefamily.com/parenting for more tips.
Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.
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