Activities to do with children before their parents go away

This module supports you to increase children's understanding of their parent working away (such as on deployment, absence from home, training or work-ups). The information is broken up into two main sections:

  1. Activities that can be done and sent to the parent via the family or social worker e.g. email attachment 

  2. Activities that could be given to the other parent to post . Families are normally allowed to post one parcel a week for free during deployment (if their absence is considered a deployment).

Dive bag

Activities you can do before a parent departs for work

Sometimes adequate notice is given to assist families to prepare to work away for long periods. Be aware that sometimes only a few days are given as notice, creating high levels of stress at home. Active engagement can help young children cope better during such uncertain times.

  • Talk with parents about the narrative they use at home to prepare the child e.g. ‘Daddy’s going on a plane on deployment. He is coming back on a plane at Easter time’. Write the narrative down, to reduce variations and possibilities of confusion. There is an article in this module to give you some examples of these family narratives.

  • Support that narrative by giving opportunities for the child to finish each sentence when you start the narrative. Keeping it as close as possible to the parent's narrative is important.

  • Prepare a pre-departure sheet with the parent, if they are agreeable. Ask the parents to share what happens that is different in the family when a parent works away e.g. jobs, sleeping arrangements, bins, gardening, pets so that you can chat with the child about these changes.

  • A stuffed toy could be given to parents before they depart so they can take photos of the mascot when they are out and about. (This is one of the characters from the eBook Now that I am big: Anthony's story in the resources section. A pattern for how to make this toy is included in the Children's Resources).


  • Ask the child to draw or paint pictures of how their parent is going away, such as a plane at the airport, then scribe the family narrative underneath and hang it up on the wall, and give a coloured copy to parents to assist them in preparing.

  • Engage with the eBook Now that I am big: Anthony’s story which shows Anthony’s experiences when his father deploys.  Discuss various parts of the deployment cycle as they are mentioned in the book, for example, before deployment, during deployment, the reunion, and post-deployment (reintegration). 

For children over 8 years

Older children will understand what is happening when their parent works away. That said, they may still struggle with the emotional aspects of this arrangement. Providing opportunities for older children to express their concerns about their parent going away can assist them in processing these feelings. It can help validate them and give them a voice.

Ask them to process these by creating a diagram depicting all their emotions when their parent goes away. The diagram could be digital or hand-drawn. They can label the emotions and add ways they might be able to find support to deal with each emotion.

What to do if a parent does not want to or can’t share information about the deployment

This often makes family and social workers uneasy about continued support and may lead to ignoring that change has occurred or is about to happen. In this instance, you can reflect on general strategies to support a child going through change (for example providing safe and open dialogue) and reflect on relationships between the service and families to look for ways to implement positive change.

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Last modified: Friday, 1 September 2023, 7:20 PM