How can I help my 6-year-old cope with having his dad in Iraq?

My husband was deployed to Iraq six months ago. Since he left, our 6-year-old son has complained of headaches and difficulty falling asleep at night. I know he’s worried about his dad. What should I do?

Question:
Ellen Rome, M.D.
ABOUT THE EXPERT

Ellen Rome, M.D.

Dr. Ellen Rome is a board-certified pediatrician who was among the first in the U.S. to be board certified in adolescent medicine. She... Read more

Your son is having a normal reaction to the stress of having his dad in a potentially scary place. Validate his feelings and help him express them (“I know that you miss Daddy, and so do I. He feels stronger in Iraq knowing that you are sending him positive thoughts. Shall we write him a letter or draw him a picture? What other ideas can you think of?”). Many kids develop headaches, insomnia, abdominal pain or other physical symptoms when they are stressed or worried. It is worthwhile discussing these symptoms with your pediatrician, since many physical illnesses can be triggered by stress. It may also be useful to help him learn to flex his coping muscles by taking him to see a pediatric psychologist who specializes in kids with anxiety or stress. You can explain to him that just as he might need a great coach to learn a new sport or play a musical instrument, a counselor can help him deal with the rough spots in life that can cause him stress. You can tell him that the bravest folks in the world, and the biggest heroes, also get scared and stressed, and often need these kinds of life coaches. Also let him know that you value his health and his power of positive thoughts to get through a tough time, and that having this kind of a coach can help him be at his best and strongest.

Answer: