Tracy Beck

Workshop helps children cope with parents at sea

Tracy Beck’s office resembles a child’s playroom more than the office of a program facilitator with the Military Family Resource Centre.

Tracy Beck’s office resembles a child’s playroom more than the office of a program facilitator with the Military Family Resource Centre.

The small space is covered in toys, books, craft supplies, juice boxes, snacks and two small red kid-sized tables and chairs. There are two large maps on the walls, including one with different types of animals found in various countries around the world.

On the opposite wall is a whiteboard with several kids’ drawings of how they feel that day. For example, Tracy is smiling and happy, while Chelsea is tired and Thomas is mad.

Having kids draw how they’re feeling is how Beck starts her deployment workshops since she started running them 15 years ago. The weekly workshops, held at the Colwood Pacific Activity Centre, help children between the ages of three to 12 adjust to a parent being away on deployment.

Beck focuses on teaching children to express their emotions and showing them there are other children also going through similar situations.

Each of the four children at the Tuesday workshop are in the youngest three to five age group. Many of their fathers were deployed on HMCS Winnipeg and have been away since last June.

“Lots of times you can be sad, but you can be happy in 10 more minutes. You can feel more than one thing at once,” Beck said. “You can be happy you have something but you can be sad because something reminds you of your dad. It’s okay to feel whatever you feel, there’s no wrong feeling.”

To start the workshop, Beck shows the kids where their parents are that day on a map (HMCS Winnipeg was in Tokyo at the time), then they talk about the weather and time differences.

Next kids have a snack and story time followed by a groundhog and Valentine’s Day craft, which can be mailed to their parents.

Beck, who brought her own children to the workshop when her husband was deployed, said the crafts and activities provide children things to talk to their parents about when they call or Skype.

“If they were in Egypt, we would talk about the different things to see. It’s to give them topics to talk to dad about,” she said. “Sometimes at this age, children say ‘hi, I miss you’, and that’s it. If we give them things to ask dad or talk about like the weather or how hot it was, it’s easier. They love to send pieces to dad.”

Throughout the workshop, mentions of their fathers come up several times.

Beck will ask “whose daddy is the best tickler?” or “why don’t you make cupcakes and surprise daddy when he comes home?”

For many families, being on deployments for months at a time can be difficult to cope with.

Heather Vallieres enrolled her son Isaac in the workshop when her husband deployed nine months ago. She has seen a difference in her three-year-old since he started attending.

“I’ve noticed even at three he wants to take more responsibility and help mom and his little sister. He’s able to articulate what he’s thinking and feelings related to the deployment a lot better than before,”  Vallieres said, adding Isaac has a better understanding of time and the countries his father has been.

“He’s able to say I miss daddy, but I know daddy’s working.”

The workshops are growing in popularity, mostly by word of mouth. There are four children in the three to five age group and eight in the five to eight-year-old group. Those numbers tend to fluctuate depending on the size of deployment.

The workshop is one of many services the government offers through the Military Family Resource Centre to help address the needs of military families. The facility in Colwood is one of 43 centres in Canada. For more information visit esquimaltmfrc.com.