National Service (NS) is a unique phase of life for all NS-liable males. It is normal for your son to face personal issues or challenges in the first few weeks of NS. Besides homesickness, your son may experience other adjustment issues on enlisting. Common issues that full-time National Servicemen (NSFs) face include:
- Difficulty sleeping
- Feeling down
- Relationship conflicts
As parents, you are not alone in dealing with your son's adjustments during this period. The Singapore Armed Forces, Singapore Civil Defence Force and Singapore Police Force all have professional counsellors and dedicated helplines not just for helping your son but also their family members. You can help your son by identifying the issue early and providing him with the right support.
If you have any concerns, speak to the counsellors as they will be able to assist and advise you on helping your son deal with whatever difficulties he may encounter.
Having to adapt to a new environment can be a stressful process. During this period of adjustment, it is not unusual if your son finds it difficult to sleep. This includes:
- The inability to fall asleep or having extreme difficulty falling asleep
- Waking up too early or waking up multiple times a night (broken sleep)
- Having interrupted sleep due to frequent nightmares
In most cases, NSFs resume their regular sleeping patterns as they become used to their environment and their community.
Anxiety and worry are fundamental human emotions that we all experience. As your son enters a new environment, it is expected that he may experience some anxiety. These feelings will fade as he adjusts to life in NS.
While some anxiousness is normal, being overly anxious is excessive and unhealthy. Each uniformed Service has a counselling hotline. Call the counselling hotline of your son’s uniformed Service immediately if he displays the following symptoms:
- Having vivid and disturbing thoughts
- Isolation and withdrawal from people
- Increased dependence on others such as asking repetitive questions and seeking constant reassurance
- Feeling uncomfortable and pressured constantly
What you can do
While you cannot stop your son from feeling anxious, you can help to alleviate some of his anxiety by using the ‘60-second reality check’. This is a simple but powerful technique that can help your son regain his perspective and reduce distress.
As soon as something has happened to trigger a strong sense of distress or anxiety, encourage your son to ask himself the following questions:
- Does this (what has just happened) really matter to me?
- In the grand scheme of things, how big of a deal is it?
- Is it a true disaster?
- Is it likely to be a big deal in 24 hours?
- Is it likely to be a big deal in one week?
- Am I taking it personally?
- If I react now will it be helpful or make things worse?
- Would it make sense to take time to think through the situation and then decide how to react?
- Are my thoughts and actions helping or hurting me?
- Is what I am thinking or telling myself now helpful or hurtful?
It is important to explain to your son that the purpose of this exercise is not to talk him out of feeling the way he does. Instead, it is for him to reflect on the matter causing his distress so that he will choose his response wisely and avoid impulsive reactions.
Your son’s mood will vary from time to time and there will be periods when he feels down. However, this might not necessarily mean he is depressed.
While everyone’s experience of being down is different, most individuals display the following symptoms:
- Continuous low mood
- A change in eating, weight and/or sleep patterns
- Lowered energy levels and a reduced level of physical activity
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feelings of worthlessness
- Loss of interest, enthusiasm and enjoyment
- Feeling irritable and short-tempered, or tearful
- Unable or unwilling to continue as usual with work and interests, possibly because of loss in motivation (questioning ‘what’s the point’)
- Thoughts of worthlessness, at times to the extent of thinking that it is not worth going on (suicidal thoughts)
Your son might display some of the above symptoms but this is not cause for concern as brief periods of feeling down are normal. However, if these feelings or symptoms persist for quite some time (i.e. over six months of more), do call the counselling hotline of your son’s uniformed Service immediately.
Stress is a part of life and it is natural for your son to feel stressed due to the change in environment. However, with proper stress management and time, he will be able to adjust and handle situations better.
Most people experience stress as a result of their environment or the situation they are in. However, there are some who unconsciously do things that make themselves more stressful. There are several reasons for this:
- Poor self-esteem
- Overwhelming sense of responsibility for others
- Ill health
What you can do
Once you have identified your son’s cause of stress, you will be able to help him better manage it. You can advise your son on some effective ways to handle stress:
- Tackle the issue by finding an effective solution
- Do physical activities
- Speak to others about the issue and see if they can help
- Avoid compulsive-addictive behaviour that will worsen stress in the long term
You can also contact the counsellors in your son’s uniformed Service for more advice on how your son can relieve stress.
Part of being in NS means having to be away from loved ones for a while. While your son goes through this period of personal change, he might feel insecure about the strength of his relationships.
Many relationship conflicts arise from having:
- Unrealistic expectations of the relationship
- Too many demands due to personal distress
- Unfortunate experiences in past relationships that affect trust
- Confusion about partner’s needs and expectations
What you can do
You can help reassure your son by talking to him about his issues and concerns and suggesting solutions. For more advice on how to help your son manage relationship conflicts, do call the counselling hotline for your son’s uniformed Service.