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Staying in Touch When a Family Member Has Been Deployed
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Ideas and advice for staying in touch with a family member who has been deployed.
When a family member has been deployed, communication can become difficult. But the military has worked hard to set up communication channels such as e-mail and mail systems to make sure that service members and their families can stay in touch. The efforts you make to communicate with each other during a deployment can help both of you cope with the separation.
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Communicating through the mail and the Internet
If you'll be communicating with your family member through the mail, be sure you have the correct address so that letters and packages will get there quickly. Learn about any guidelines for military mail, such as how and where to pick up mail, what you can and cannot send, and how long it may take for a letter or package to reach your family member. The same advice holds for e-mail, too: Be sure you have the exact address, and find out about any rules for sending messages or attachments.
Try to write to your family member as often as you can, but don't be disappointed or worried if you don't always get quick responses. There may be times when your family member is in places where mail cannot go or he or she may be too busy to respond right away.
Here are some things you should think about when you're writing to a family member:
- Be honest. You don't have to hide things or pretend that you're feeling fine when you're not. Your family member may be able to tell that there's something you're not saying and worry.
- Let your family member know how much you appreciate his or her response. Tell him how much it means for you and other members of your family when you get a letter or e-mail.
- Answer any questions he or she asked in an earlier message. If you ignore questions, your family member may spend time wondering and worrying why you didn't respond.
- Try to express yourself clearly. Remember that you won't be there in person to explain what you mean when your family member reads your letter, so try not to leave any doubt about exactly what you're saying.
- Keep some addressed and stamped envelopes on hand, ready to mail. This may make it easier to write a quick note. You can also pass out addressed and stamped envelopes or postcards to friends and family members to encourage them to write.
- Don't try to read between the lines of letters or notes that you receive. Try not to make assumptions or judgments based on just a single sentence or the overall tone of a letter. If you have a question or don't understand something, ask your questions in your next letter or phone call rather than wasting time wondering and worrying.
- Consider numbering letters that you send and receive so that you and your family member can easily keep them in order.
- If you send a package, try to remember that your family member may not have a lot of space. Send small, funny presents, like souvenirs or a favorite section of the Sunday paper, or personal items, such as soap or toothpaste. If you plan on sending food items, take care with packaging. Always check to make sure that any package you send fits with regulations.
- Be creative . Letters and e-mails are wonderful, but there are lots of ways you can make them even better. You can send a message in the form of a tape recording or a video. If you have children, send artwork, school papers, or even a photocopy of their hand prints. You can send clippings from the local paper or tape recordings of a family gathering, a child reading, singing, or playing music, or even just the sounds of your home. You may come up with your own ideas that have special meaning for your family member.
- Use the Internet for more than e-mail . If you can use the Internet to stay in touch, there are lots of things you can do beyond sending e-mail messages. You can set up a Web page with pictures and news -- or find a service that hosts Web pages -- or you can "talk" with your family member in chat rooms. You can also send digital pictures or use a scanner to send newspaper clippings, artwork, or a child's report card or school papers.
- Send photos. Pictures of loved ones can be very comforting when a family is separated. Just as you like to look at photos of your family member who has been deployed, he or she will enjoy seeing photos of people at home. You don't have to send professional pictures or photographs of special events. Send photos of your pets, your neighbors, your child's sporting event, a recital, or another occasion. You can also send photos of your home and other places that are special to you and your family member. Some families document a normal day in photos and send them as a kind of "picture story."
Tips for communicating with e-mail
E-mail is convenient, fast, and inexpensive, which makes it a great way to communicate during a deployment. But because e-mail is instantaneous, it's also possible to click the "send" button and send something you wish you could recall. If dashing off an e-mail makes you feel better when you're upset or mad, go ahead -- just wait before you send it. Come back a few hours later or the next day and review what you wrote to see if you still want to send it.
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Ways children can communicate with a deployed family member
It's important for children to feel like they are keeping in touch with a deployed parent or family member instead of hearing news or greetings secondhand. Encourage your child to send artwork or write letters, and make sure that the family member who has been deployed sends e-mail or letters addressed and mailed directly to the child. This may help a child understand that her family member is thinking about and missing her. Here are some other ways to help children keep a sense of connection with a deployed family member:
- Let children find a way to communicate that works for them . Some children may like to use a tape recorder to exchange spoken messages, while others may like to write letters or send e-mail. Others, especially younger children, like to communicate with pictures. Help your child explore all of the different ways she can communicate. Encourage the deployed family member to follow the child's cues -- by responding with a recorded message, for example, or by drawing a picture of where he sleeps or a typical meal.
- Give your child his own stack of pre-addressed and stamped envelopes and paper to make it easy to write on the spur of the moment.
- Help children think of things that their family member may like to know about. Sometimes children have trouble starting a letter or knowing what to say. Help children understand that their deployed family member is interested in anything that's going on in their life.
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