Raising Military Children

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Being a military spouse and raising military children comes with its own challenges but it can can be equally challenging for the military child themselves. Deployments, war, moving home, education, new friends, new languages and missing one or both of their parents is a regular thing in military life for a military child.

Studies estimate that 2 million US children have been exposed to a wartime deployment of a military parent in the past 10 years. Some of those children experienced repeat deployments of a parent while other children experienced both parents being deployed.

Parental deployment can stir up a variety of emotions in children, ranging from fear and anxiety to anger and sadness. And it can lead to a variety of academic and behavioural challenges for children.

So it’s important for parents, caregivers, and other adults to recognize how military deployments affect children.

Today’s Deployments

Since the Vietnam War in the 1960s and ’70s, the military’s demographic has changed. At that time, only 15 percent of active-duty troops—who were nearly all men—were also parents, so the hardship on children was neither prominent nor researched.

As of 2014, though, according to Department of Defense research, 42 percent of military personnel now have children. Consider children who were just beginning to remember events in their life as 9/11 occurred—these youth are now in their late teens and early 20s, and a country at war is all they’ve ever known.

Deployments average 3 to 15 months. And sometimes, they occur during peacetime. Most families do well after peacetime deployments since these deployments are usually safer and shorter in duration.

Wartime deployments, however, can be the most stressful for families—especially children.

The Phases of Deployment

When most people think of deployment, they most likely imagine a tearful good-bye or a parent who has already left. But that’s only a small part of the overall picture.

There are actually three phases of deployment; pre-deployment, deployment, and post-deployment. All three phases can stir up a variety of challenges for families so it’s important to acknowledge how all three phases can impact children:

  • Pre-deployment – During the days and months leading up to deployment, service members and their families may experience a variety of stressful events, such as dealing with legal issues, creating a will, or assigning a power of attorney. Children may feel confused or anxious about what will happen to them.
  • Deployment – When a parent is deployed, a child may experience a sense of emptiness, loss, and abandonment. Some children develop new coping skills and gain more independence during this time. The anticipation of a parent returning can be filled with worry and excitement.
  • Post-deployment – Families often experience a “honeymoon phase” after reuniting. But shortly after, many begin to struggle to readjust to family life. Many things have likely changed during a deployed parent’s time away. Problems with adjustment can be especially problematic if the parent who was deployed develops post-traumatic stress disorder.