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Ask Dr. Sears: Missing Dad in the Military

Q  My husband left for Iraq over 6 months ago, and suddenly I'm a single mom now that he's away. How can I keep my patience with our 2-year-old daughter? I'm so stressed and worried about my husband all the time, and I know she feels it and acts out because of it. I want to be the best parent I can be, but lately I lose my patience way too much. Please help me figure out some way to keep my cool.

A. Not only do our troops who are fighting to keep our country safe experience the trauma of missing their loved ones, many military wives, mothers, and children also suffer separation anxiety. You are right to suspect that your child senses your anxiety. When a mother and child are very close, when mom is upset, so is the child. Here are some mother-daughter bonding tips you can do to relieve the tension while Dad is away.

Talk it out.

While you're with your child, talk about Daddy. It's okay to say, "I wish Daddy were here." Sharing emotions is therapeutic for both you and your child. Ask her questions about Daddy, "Do you miss Daddy?" You may be amazed at the level of your toddler's understanding and feelings.

Show pictures.

Another way to help your child stay connected with Daddy even while apart is to display pictures of Dad all around the house. Periodically make rounds around the house talking to the pictures. Toddlers like that -- and so do military dads.

Share sleep.

We have a lot of military families in the Sears' Family Pediatric practice. Invariably, mothers report that their children often crawl in bed with them or have more sleep disturbances when Dad is deployed. Nighttime is scary time for anxious little people. Work out a sleeping arrangement so both of you get the most restful night's sleep. This could be sleeping next to you in your bed, in a crib next to your bed, or on a toddler bed at the foot of your bed.

Read to your child.

Read Daddy's letters to your child. Even though she may not understand all the words, she will catch the spirit of Dad being there in the letters. If you have video or audiotapes of him, play them frequently for your child.

Mark the calendar.

If you know when your husband is likely to be coming home, shortly before he's due to come home start marking the calendar each day with happy faces. This gives your child something to look forward to.

Finally, when you find yourself getting down, get out with your child and do some fun mommy-and-me activities to try to relieve some of the separation anxiety.}]