A deployed parent's absence can rock a child's entire world and leave her pining for the day he'll return home. Because deployment usually lasts for several months, children experience a sense of loss as they learn to live with the absence of a parent. When the deployment is winding down and your child is looking forward to the return of his other parent, he probably asks several times a day how much longer he has to wait. Clever countdown activities will tell your child how many days until the big return in an entertaining way.
Use the classic countdown chain idea so your child has a visual reminder of when his parent will be home. Work with your child to count how many days remain until the big day. Cut out a corresponding number of construction paper strips, each one about 2 inches wide. Let your child choose what color of construction paper to use, or encourage him to select two or three colors of paper. Roll one strip at a time, wrapping each around the one before, stapling them as you go. Hang the chain in a prominent place in your home, such as your child's bedroom, and make ripping off a link part of your child's bedtime routine.
Buy your child a blank calendar of her own or allow her to select one on her own. Show your child how many months and days her parent will be gone and count them together. Hang the calendar in your child's bedroom or on the refrigerator. Just before your child goes to bed at night, give her a marker and ask her to place an "x" in the calendar square for that day. Your child might like to draw a happy face or other picture instead, and that works, too. As your child crosses off each day her parent is gone, she'll feel a sense of satisfaction as she gets one day closer to seeing him again.
Candy in a Jar
Find a large glass jar and dub it as a special countdown tool. Count how many days your child's parent will be gone on deployment and place that many pieces of candy into the jar. At the end of each day, allow your child to take out one piece of candy to eat to mark that her parent is one day closer to returning. If you don't want your child to eat all that candy, use plastic army men or stickers instead.
Purchase an inexpensive photo album or blank scrapbook at a hobby store. Designate one page or part of one page for every day that your child's parent will be gone. Take a snapshot of your child doing something funny or cute each day. Perhaps you could take a picture of your child sleeping or wearing her favorite school outfit. Print the photos on your home printer or have them developed at a photo lab. Work with your child to place one photo a day into the book, dating each one. Let your child decorate the scrapbook with stickers. As you fill the book with memorable moments, your child will realize how much closer she's getting to seeing her parent again, and her deployed parent will enjoy the chance to see what his child has been up to while he's been gone.