Looking for a list of activities for kids at home anxiously awaiting the arrival of their deployed parent?
You’re not alone.
Running the parenting show solo at home isn’t an easy task, especially when it comes down to deployment time. You may wonder how you can fill the days with enough distractions for your child who is hardcore missing their deployed parent.
From toddlers to teenagers, military kids of all ages need things to do to pass the time during deployment periods.
Single parenting is a challenge most military spouses face at some point during their spouse’s career. You may as well fill the time with enriching activities for your kids to get through it.
It’s a challenge, but you can keep your kids (and yourself) busy enough to pass the time until your loved one returns.
Here are 25 activities for kids at home to pass the time while you solo parent during deployment:
For Little Ones
1. Set up play dates – Not only is it great for your little ones to socialize, it’s a great chance to socialize yourself. Invite other parents to your home and vice versa. Switch it up and explore local playgrounds, library story times, and book store events with other parents with kids your age.
2. Read deployment books – During your child’s bedtime routine, include reading books that cover the topic of deployment. A Paper Hug, Night Catch, and I Miss You!: A Military Kid’s Book About Deployment are great options to check out. Amazon has a ton of deployment books for kids.
3. Create crafts together – Every week, make a special craft that you can send in a care package for your deployed service member. Or stow it away for when they return. Handprint hearts, friendship bracelets, and anything American flag-related is guaranteed to bring a smile to your deployed service member’s face.
4. Save precious memories – Have your child tell you what the most exciting part of their day was. Write it on a sticky note and place it in a bowl for your loved one to read when they get home.
5. Have a countdown system – A lot of families love doing candy countdowns. This is by far one of the best activities for kids at home awaiting the arrival of their parent. Get a bowl and count out the number of candy based on the number of days until your loved one will be home. Each day, let your child have one treat. Once the bowl is empty, their sweetest treat will have arrived!
6. Connect with your service member – Infants and toddlers grow at an alarming rate. As much as possible, let them connect with their deployed parent on screen time. An infant hearing their parent’s voice can be soothing, even if they don’t understand who exactly is on the other end of the screen.
For Elementary/Middle School-Aged Kids
7. Record them reading a favorite book – Deployed parents miss the sounds of their child’s voice. Make it a special project for your child to read a favorite book of theirs and record it to send to your service member.
8. Set up a “date night” – Whether you have one kid or a few, make sure you’re spending adequate quality time with them. Have a date night to go one-on-one to a special place of your child’s choosing. A favorite park, the movies, a restaurant…let them pick and dress up. You can even do an “at home” date night if you just want to stay in.
9. Host a slumber party – Ask your child to create a list of friends they would like to have over for a slumber party. This can be helpful to do with other military kids whose parents are also gone. It gives them a way to connect outside of school and build important friendships.
10. Record sweet moments – Kids do sweet things all the time. It may be something they said or did, but write it all down in a journal for your spouse to read once they get back. Whatever your kid does that makes them a superstar, let the deployed parent know about it on calls, too, so they can offer much-needed praise.
11. Have a Friday night ritual – Give your child(ren) something exciting to look forward to every Friday. Whether it’s ordering pizza in, heading to a local favorite attraction, hanging with friends, or another activity, get them excited about it at the start of the week.
12. Practice random acts of kindness- There’s always someone in the military community who could use a little help. Talk to your neighbors, connect with your spouse group, and speak with other military friends to see who may need a helping hand. Your kids can participate in activities like card making, cookie baking, sweeping yards, or shoveling snow, depending on their age level and what’s needed.
For High School Students
13. Set up a halfway party – Let your high schooler plan a “halfway party” once your family has made it to the deployment halfway point. This is a great time to invite other military families over to bond and celebrate surviving deployment life.
14. Encourage sibling bonding – Encourage your high schooler to spend one-on-one time with their siblings. Research shows that siblings can be helpful in processing emotions during deployment.
15. Plan a fun homecoming – Get your teen to pitch in on planning the homecoming event. Whether it’s phoning relatives once the time gets closer or setting a theme and purchasing decor, let them take part in the welcome home party process. It will give them something to look forward to. Here’s a list of deployment welcome home party ideas.
16. Prepare meals together – Find a recipe book at your local library and work through the recipes with your teenager. Desserts, breads, appetizers, whatever sounds appealing, take turns selecting recipes and make them together on weekends or evenings. Cooking is a great way to bond and reconnect while enjoying great food!
17. Make a month-by-month photo book – Capture exciting events (like birthdays) on camera. At the end of each month, you can digitally create a photo book for print. Or, have your high schooler organize your photos and compile a full book for every month your spouse was deployed. This will let them in on snapshots of what they missed.
For the Whole Family
18. Write letters – Deployed service members cherish their letters. Make it a weekly habit to sit down as a family and do this practice together. If it’s a busy week, try out the Sandboxx app for ease in getting your service member a homefront update. Check out our letter writing for kids post.
19. Volunteer as a family – Give back as a family to distract yourselves from the deployment. There are so many great ways to do this as a family. Some ideas include Habitat for Humanity, the Humane Society, soup kitchens, military events on base, and other local happenings like 5K races.
20. Journal – At the start of the deployment, buy everyone in the household a deployment journal. Tell your children (even littles ones who can draw), that this is a private journal that is for letting out their frustrations and/or exciting life wins during deployment.
21. Tour your own backyard – Pick exciting local attractions to explore. If you haven’t been with your spouse, keep a phone note or mental note of places to take them when they get back, especially if the kids loved it.
22. Talk about your spouse – Keep your spouse’s name at the forefront of your kids’ minds. Share with your child(ren) about how much their parent misses them and loves them. Write down what your kids say they miss about their parent and send it to the deployed parent.
23. Create a welcome basket for a new family – It’s hard to focus on your own sadness and loneliness when you’re doing good for others. Have your kids help you create a welcome basket for a new family who moves on to base. Baking fresh cookies, making artwork, and gathering flowers from a garden are all thoughtful ways your family can welcome another.
24. Make a birthday/holiday video compilation – Deployed spouses often miss big holidays and birthday celebrations. Have your family create a video montage of a birthday event or holiday gathering to send your service member. Create a special birthday message video for them on their birthday, too.
25. Have a care package party – Creating care packages for deployed service members is one of the most perfect activities for kids at home missing a parent. It gives them a chance to collect their thoughts in a letter for enclosure, purchase thoughtful gifts, and generally cheer up their deployed parent.
A Few Final Tips on Distracting Kids During Deployment
Deployments — no matter how short or long — are tough on family units.
For kids, help them find ways to feel connected to their deployed parent as much as you can. It may make them feel upset at times to talk about it, but it’s a part of the process that shouldn’t be ignored.
A few ways to help your kids cope with deployment:
- Create routines – Routines are good for everyone, but especially kids. They thrive on knowing what to expect next. Maintain good sleep schedules, family meals, and activities as much as possible. Flexibility for certain situations can help, too.
- Limit media exposure – The news is great for keeping the general public informed, but it can also cause great anxiety for littles ones. Avoid watching war movies or any updates on combat zones around your child. Let them know you will give them any important news from the family readiness liaison or their deployed parent. Offer a weekly update in a fun and lighthearted way, if possible.
- Expect some behavior changes – Kids react in all different ways, so talking about the upcoming deployment as much as possible before it occurs can be helpful. Planning ahead with activities for kids at home can also keep them from getting bored, lonely, and sad.
- Prepare for tough questions – If you have little ones, you’ll probably field the question of “When is so-and-so coming home?” several times a day at the beginning. Older kids may be more in tune with the fact that deployments can be dangerous. They may inquire about the safety of your spouse’s mission. Reassure them as best you can.
Deployments are an inevitable part of military family life. Learning how to prepare and planning ahead are helpful in making the process feel a little smoother.
Not only is it important to help your child(ren) feel connected to their deployed parent, they also should feel a deep connection with their at-home parent, too. Keeping activities for kids at home fun can keep them out of trouble elsewhere and strengthen your bond with them as well.
What are some of your favorite activities for kids at home who miss their deployed parent? Let us know in the comments below!
Feature image courtesy of 452nd Air Mobility Wing/Public Affairs. Photo by Staff Sgt. Oz Suguitan