PES club helps children cope when parents deploy

At first glance, it looked like a game of musical chairs.

But instead of walking around the chairs to music, these children changed chairs in response to statements such as “Move if you have a parent in Afghanistan” or “Move if you’re sad that your parent is deployed.”

The game was part of the Patch Elementary School Mini Troopers Club, designed to help young students with deployed parents cope using mediated discussions, games and crafts.

The club is sponsored by the PES Guidance and Counseling Program, in collaboration with Military and Family Life Consultants, supported through Army Community Service. It meets every other Thursday in the PES Information Center from 11:30 a.m. to noon for second and third grade, noon to 12:30 p.m. for kindergarten and first grade, and from 12:30-1 p.m. for fourth and fifth grade.

“We realize we have parents deployed a lot or TDY,” said Jan Kuenning, PES guidance counselor and founder/director of the Mini Troopers Club. This affects students academically, socially and behaviorally, she added.

The goals of the club are to help children manage their fears and emotions positively, develop methods to stay in contact with their deployed parent, prepare for departures and reunions, and relate with other children of deployed parents.  
 “It’s really helpful for them to see there are other kids [who] have the same situation,” Kuenning said.

She initiated the program four years ago, after receiving requests from parents.
During the club’s first meeting this year on Oct. 21, children played the “Move If …” chair game, and drew pictures of their families.

Marin Dickman, 6, didn’t draw her father, currently deployed, in the picture; instead, she drew herself, her brothers and her mother, with a small airplane in the sky. “He’s up in the plane,” she said. “He’s crying because he misses us.”

As the children drew, Kuenning asked them questions based on their age group, such as “What do you like to do with your dad?” and “How do you stay in touch?”.
“I like kissing my dad,” said Emily Rice, 5. “I like to cuddle with him a lot.”
“I cried the first time he was going to leave,” she added later.

It was a chance for many children to open up about their feelings in a safe environment.

“I don’t feel so sad anymore when I talk to somebody about it,” said Benjamin Dennis, 9, whose father is currently deployed to Afghanistan.
Likewise, Brianna Staub, 10, appreciated the chance to open up to adults who understood.

Both of Staub’s parents are in the military and have been deployed; her father is now serving a tour in Afghanistan.
“It’s a lot better, because you’re with a person [who] can give you comfort,” she said. “They’re talking to you, having fun with you, and it kind of feels like a parent, but they’re not — they’re a friend.”

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