It’s difficult to know how much your toddler understands about a parent’s impending underway. Toddlers don’t quite get the concept of time or what it means for a parent to be in a submarine without the modern communication methods they may be used to (Facetime, phone calls, etc.).
As I was trying to figure out how to prepare my 2.5-year-old for her first experience with her daddy going underway, I thought having her help pack his halfway box would be fun. I explained to her that this would be surprises for daddy while he was away in his submarine, and since all toddler’s love surprises, she was excited about it.
Here are the ways I incorporated her into making our halfway box:
We of course needed to pick things out to pack in the box. This is a great post from couple years ago about what to pack/not to pack in a halfway box. I took my toddler to Target to help pick out some candies/sweets, a small plush toy, and some stickers. She was specifically looking for a dinosaur, but with size being an issue, we ended up with a small plush kitty. My spouse thought it was really cute when he opened it and plans on giving it back to her as a “surprise” when he gets back – so with this one you get double benefits!
“Writing” a Letter:
Have your toddler write, or draw, on a card for your spouse. Especially if you are writing your own letters for him/her. This is a great activity for your toddler to do while you do some of your own decorating or letter writing for the halfway box. We used crayons for this, it creates less of a mess and I didn’t have to be watching over her like a hawk. Let your toddler know that they are writing a letter for their daddy/mommy to open while they are gone.
Decorating The Box:
I prepped our hallway box by using washi tape to put printer paper on the flaps for us to decorate. You can decorate this way or just decorate directly on the sides without the paper. I then had my toddler draw some more pictures and add LOTS of stickers. Her stickers of choice were mermaids and treasure chests. Tailor this to your child’s likes and dislikes. My toddler loves drawing and stickers – but maybe for yours would get a kick out of finger painting or just sticking more washi tape on top. Go as simple or as complex as you want to!
Packing The Box:
At this point your toddler may lose interest or maybe you want to pack the box a certain way so things don’t jiggle around. Whatever the case may be, packing the box with your toddler is definitely not necessary. Both things occurred in my scenario. My daughter lost interest and I was fine with that because I wanted to make sure the box was packed right and didn’t jostle. She did help me give him the box and she loved that part!
Having your toddler prepare and pack a halfway box for your sailor before they leave is a great way to involve them in pre-deployment in a pleasant way. Deployments are hard, and for some, the time leading up to a deployment is just as difficult. Children do not fully understand everything that is happening, but making positive memories with them even through difficult times can make things much easier!
For more tips on preparing children for deployments, click here.