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Reintegration


Michael Martin and his children in Big Bird's nest

As the injured parent continues to rehabilitate, your family is learning hopeful ways of going on and is starting to make long-term plans. For some, this may mean moving back to the base; for others, returning to a non-military environment. Encourage your child to view such changes as part of a journey and as a way for your family to continue to grow and to experience new situations — together.

Explain that the process isn't over yet: "Getting better can take a long time." In many cases, therapy will be ongoing, doctors and medicines may continue to be part of everyday life, and there may be additional hospital stays.

Invite your child to think of new ways to do things. A parent who has given an arm could offer a one-armed hug. And a parent who has given a leg could start enjoying games of wheelchair tag or soccer. Try a weekend breakfast picnic or a family naptime lullaby!

The returning parent may not remember things. She may be irritable and emotionally unavailable. Offer reassurance: "Mom needs some quiet time to think about things." Make sure there are relaxing places in your home, outside, or elsewhere, where the returning parent (or anyone else in the family) can go to take a break.

Take advantage of the services available from your community, including family support groups, counselors and medical professionals. You may do so anonymously if you prefer.

As the situation changes, you may have to adjust these routines. When possible, keep big changes to a minimum, especially at first.

Encourage your child to share his new accomplishments and skills with the newly returned parent. Your child has learned to hop, get dressed and more. Enjoy these successes together. In the same way, your child can cheer when the injured parent masters a new skill or relearns a task.

Older siblings, especially those who are more comfortable with change, can teach and reassure a younger child about handling a new and difficult situation. They can also be great ambassadors to the community at-large.

Now that everyone is home again, you may need to reassign responsibilities. Take care not to make your child feel as if he's being demoted. Stress that you can all continue to share in everyday activities, but in a different way. After the readjustments, come up with some special, new family routines: Perhaps at the end of the week, each family member can tell about "the best thing of the week." Or your family can enjoy a session of weekend evening stargazing, with a cup of cocoa or lemonade in hand. Do things that will bring you together!

Be flexible. Everyone will have to get used to new routines — for the hospital, for home, for therapy.

Changes are forever. This is your new family, your "new normal." Have faith: Children can adjust. Help your child understand that paths in life are always changing; flexibility and resiliency make it possible to negotiate the turns. Most of all, the changes are part of an experience and a journey that your whole family will take together.

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