1. Acknowledge the soldier’s absence and encourage communication. A simple note or email to the family as soon as you learn of a deployment expressing your support and willingness to help sets you up for success over the coming months.
2. Be patient with a student’s mood swings. It is extraordinarily stressful to have a parent in combat, and some children feel ambushed by sad and angry feelings that crop up with little warning. Establish ahead of time a secret sign and a place your student can go if he or she needs to scream, cry or tear up all the newspapers in the recycling bin.
3. Be sensitive about news coverage. Some families stop reading and watching the news altogether because it is too upsetting. If current events are a part of the curriculum, consider alternate assignments.
4. Display the flag respectfully in your classroom. It’s a small gesture that means a lot to military families.
5. Watch for economic distress. There are many unanticipated expenses which go along with deployment: unexpected travel, phone bills, medical bills, and the loss of a reservist’s income. Discretely help the family take advantage of food stamps, WIC, reduced lunch, scholarships and clothes closets.
6. Adjust the homework load. This student will have many extra chores and less oversight from the remaining parent, so consider shortening the homework, offering tutoring and time to complete work at school or adjusting due dates.
7. Communicate good news with the deployed parent. Take pictures at school when the student is in the play or spelling bee or science fair. Email a copy of an outstanding essay, a high scoring math test or a work of art. Describe in loving detail a smart, kind or funny thing this student did at school. It means the world to a soldier far from home.
8. Honor holidays, especially Veterans’ Day and Memorial Day. Invite a veteran from a local veteran’s organization to address you class. Remind the class why we celebrate these holidays.
9. Pray. Most military families are people of faith. If you are too, tell you students that you are praying every day for their soldier’s safe return.