Here are some great tips (skip to about 35 minutes) for making deployments easier on preschoolers and young children I found on My Military Life. You can listen to the blogcast yourself or read the highlights here...
Tip #1: Watch your own mood. If you are stressed and negative the little ones will pick up on this. Their misbehavior may be a sign of the stress they too are feeling. Make sure to schedule stress relievers into your day: extra sleep, a walk, reading. Whatever works for you and your little ones. I think it is important to keep a positive attitude about the deployment because just like a PCS your feelings will become their feelings.
Tip #2: Talk to your child. Talking is super important. Reassure them, comfort them and keep them in the loop as much as possible. Let them write notes to put into the deployment bags. A surprise for the parent leaving. This also works for adults. Notes can brighten the mood for the person sending and the person receiving.
Tip #3: Count downs for return. Time is an abstract concept and hard for little ones to grasp. A paper chain that they can take off a loop a day or a candy jar so they get a treat a day (M&M's or skittles) allow them a visual they can see. Making time a bit more understandable.
Tip #4: Recordings. Video recordings of parent reading a book are great night time tools. Its comforting to hear the deployed parents voice. Its also great to see them on the TV. Another voice item is a Build-A-Bear stuffed animal. Build-A-Bear has military bears, clothes and accessories. The voice chips can be recorded with the deployed parents voice. Each night before bed (or whenever they need a little reassurance) the bear can say "(name) Daddy loves you".
Tip #5: Deployment clock. A clock set to deployed time aka Mommy Time or Daddy Time. This allows them to see that when they are eating breakfast maybe Daddy is eating dinner. This can help explain why they can not talk to Mommy because she is working or sleeping when they are playing.
Tip #6: Stick to a routine. Routines are so important in general but they help the time go by and the days to have structure. Less boredom means less time for the little ones (and yourself) to worry, feel lonely, or be sad.
Tip #7: Keep discipline. Just because one parent is away does not mean that the kids should be let free to do as they please. Keeping things as normal as possible is key.
Tip #8: Regular contact. An email account can be set up for the child so the deployed parent can send emails directly to them. They feel special and happy to have something that is theirs. This does not in any way replace snail mail but is a great way for quicker correspondence. Letters, cards, and pictures are great activities to help fill the day. I agreed with the blogcast conversation on the importance of phone time and how much the little ones should have. The time for the adults to talk isn't nearly as important as the children. Let them get the time they deserve and need even if that means less for you.
These were all really great tips. I know that with little ones deployments can be very confusing and hard but every little bit helps.