4-H Military Family Book Sheets: 'A Paper Hug'

Children’s books provide a way for parents, caregivers and young children to learn about deployment and the many changes that happen by reading about other military families, children or situations that have experienced deployment.

Girl hugging a soldier
Books offer an opportunity to talk about how the family will adjust to the changes that happen during a deployment.

Deployment can be a stressful time for families, especially young children. During deployment many changes are taking place within the family and young children may not be able to fully understand them. Many times, young children are unable to fully process what a deployment means and why their service member is gone. A great way to help explain deployment and give young children an idea of what to expect can be to use children’s books.

Children’s books provide a way for parents, caregivers and young children to learn about deployment and the many changes that happen during a deployment. By reading about other military families, children and situations, they will be able to recognize that they are not alone and that other families are having experiences and feelings that are similar to their own. Books also offer an opportunity for parents and caregivers to connect with their young child one-on-one and provide a special time to talk about how the family will adjust to the upcoming changes.

The 4-H Military Family Book Sheets help parents and guardians find books and activities to help their children during the various stages of their service members’ deployments. Each book sheet contains a summary of the book, author and publication details, and activities they can use with their children pre-, during or post-deployment to extend the message of the book. To find each book, check with your local library, bookstore or online retailer.

Michigan State University Extension has put together a family book sheet on the book "A Paper Hug" by Stephanie Skolmoski. In this story, a little boy makes a paper hug to give to his father who will leave for deployment. The book explores common emotions children experience as a parent prepares to leave. It explores the child’s feelings as he waits for a letter or phone call while his father is away. The book gives simple instructions to make a paper hug.

Download a PDF of this book sheet.

Pre-deployment activities

  • Make your own paper hugs. Have your service member and family members make paper hugs for each other to exchange before your service member leaves. To make a paper hug, trace both hands on a piece of paper and cut out. Laminate or use clear contact paper to make the hand cutouts more durable. Then, cut a length of string the length of the person’s outstretched arms. Attach one paper hand to one end of the string and the other hand to the other end of the string. Now you have a paper hug. Be sure to supervise young children using paper hugs to prevent any risk of injury.
  • Prepare a box of special items that your service member likes such as favorite snacks, pictures of family, favorite reading materials or other items. Give it to your service member before he or she leaves.

During deployment activities

  • Remind family members when they feel sad, upset or angry that they can use their paper hugs to get a hug from their service member. Take pictures of family members using their paper hugs and send it to your service member.
  • Write your own paper hug poem and send it to your service member. 

Post-deployment activities

  • Give each other real hugs.
  • Have everyone share their paper hugs. Talk about how they look. Are they faded or worn? Have you used them often? Do some appear smaller because people have grown? Talk about how family members used the paper hug and how it made each person feel to have the hug near.

If you are looking for more articles about deployment support, check out Finding support for children and youth with deployed family members for a helpful checklist on who might support your child or youth during your service member’s deployment, and the Emotional cycle of deployment that explains each stage of the deployment cycle and gives helpful activities you can do to keep your family connected. You can also find additional deployment support information on the Military OneSource website, the Operation: Military Kids website and the 4-H Military Partnerships website.

For more articles on child development, academic success, parenting and life skill development, please visit the Michigan State University Extension website.

To learn about the positive impact children and families experience due to MSU Extension programs, read our 2017 impact report. Additional impact reports, highlighting even more ways Michigan 4-H and MSU Extension positively impacted individuals and communities in 2017, can be downloaded from the Michigan 4-H website.

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