On the last section we discussed the transition from soldier to civilian. We began with the discussion about how your client can eliminate their black and white thinking and helping them decide what to share with their loved ones.
In this section we will discuss how returning soldiers/warriors can adjust themselves to civilian life by learning to respond to dumb questions from civilians, talking about their war experience with supportive adults. Furthermore, we will discuss how they can adjust themselves and their children to civilian life including relearning to communicate and discipline their child.
Dumb Questions Civilians Ask and How to Respond to Them:
Kyle, mentioned in the last section, discussed how he was having trouble with comments and questions he got from those that know he is a veteran. He told me in a slightly agitated manner, "People, even my friends and family, just ask some really dumb questions about my service and I just want to blow up in their face in response but I know that that won’t help the situation."
Many soldiers/warriors who are returning to civilian life often receive questions from family and friends who want more information. Kyle was asked, "Did you kill anyone?", "Why aren’t you still there?", "How come you only did one tour?", and so on. Here are some tips I offered Kyle as a response to these questions:
1. Practice: Practice your answers on your own, here, or with someone you trust. It may also be helpful to write your responses down to remember them.
2. Humor: To break the seriousness of the moment, if it feels right and you are comfortable, you can employ some humor as a way to move the conversation. For example, I encouraged Kyle to say "well, if you really want to know about what it is like over there, I hear the military is always looking for good men and women."
3. Ignore or redirect: You can ignore the question they ask or respond by deflecting or redirecting to another topic. I offered to Kyle the redirection statements, "I’d rather not talk about this right now. How have things been for you over the last couple of months?" or "It was a challenging experience that I am still adjusting to. For now, I want to focus on what is going on here."
4. Opening up with supportive individuals: Turn the questions into an educational moment for the person asking the question. Open up the option for the question asker to hear more about your experience if the person is willing to listen and you fell safe and supported to do so.
Helping your Middle or High School-Age Child Adjust:
Ryan, a hospital corpsman with the navy, age 40, came to me after returning home from deployment. He found difficulty adjusting to being around his middle school daughter, Ava, especially regarding disciplining. When I asked Ryan to try verbalize what he want to say to Ava he responded after a long time of thinking, "In a state of unliving, I’m sitting and staring at you, desperate to verbalize my thoughts, but afraid of the words coming out, even if I could utter them. I am fearful of rejection." After a pause, he continued, "She has grown up and changed so much since I have been away." I offered Ryan the following seven steps to help him reestablish his relationship with his daughter Ava particularly regarding discipline.
It is important for you to see how your family interacts and watch how discipline is happening. See how your wife, Michelle, disciplines Ava. Note what is working and some improvements you think can be made.
When sitting down with Michelle to discuss what you have observed, make sure to lead off with what you are impressed and proud of what she is doing with Ava. After, you can discuss what you observed that worked and what didn’t. You and Michelle can then discuss what rules you have thought of for the home. Make sure you come to an agreement with your wife about house rules.
3. Rebuild Your Relationship
It is important to spend time getting to know Ava. She will have gained maturity, independence, and responsibilities. Get to know what she sees as reasonable privileges and expectations for herself.
4. Let Your Partner Lead at First
Initially allow Michelle to lead in disciplinary matters while easing into the new culture of the house. Coordinate your disciplining efforts with your wife initially and gradually implement discipline strategies together.
5. Review How You and Your Partner Handled Particular Situations
After disciplining, spend some time with Michelle going over how you handled the situation whether it was solo or together. Talk about what worked and ways to improve.
6. Use Positive as Well as Negative Consequences
Be sure to include moments of reward for Ava as well as punishing inappropriate actions. For example if she does the chores that you and Michelle have established for her to do without being asked, acknowledge this by thanking her. Have a conversation with Ava about what goals she wants to work toward.
7. Allow for Exceptions to the Rule
It is important to remain flexible when different situations come up that require different approaches.
Do you have a returning soldier as a client who has a child, like Ryan, that can use these seven tips to reestablish their relationship with their child?
In this section we discussed how returning soldiers/warriors can adjust themselves to civilian life by learning to respond to dumb questions from civilians by using the four tips: practice; humor; ignore or redirect; and opening up with supportive individuals . Furthermore, we discussed how they can adjust themselves and their children to civilian life including relearning to communicate and discipline their child with these seven tips: observe, discuss, rebuild your relationship, let your partner lead at first, review how you and your partner handled particular situations, use positive as well as negative consequences, and allow for exceptions to the rule.
In the next section we will discuss sleep techniques for returning veterans who are struggling to establish healthy sleep routines due to PTSD.
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Banneyer, K. N., Koenig, S. A., Wang, L. A., & Stark, K. D. (2017). A review of the effects of parental PTSD: A focus on military children. Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice, 6(4), 274–286.
Creech, S. K., Hadley, W., & Borsari, B. (2014). The impact of military deployment and reintegration on children and parenting: A systematic review. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 45(6), 452–464.
Knobloch, L. K., Knobloch-Fedders, L. M., Yorgason, J. B., Ebata, A. T., & McGlaughlin, P. C. (2017). Military children’s difficulty with reintegration after deployment: A relational turbulence model perspective. Journal of Family Psychology, 31(5), 542–552.
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