The Effects of Deployment on Military Children

Our military parents who deploy must leave the kids at home. This is a heartbreaking sacrifice for anyone who loves their children and it is time that cannot be recovered. What about the effects on the children whose mom or dad leaves for months to live under “one-parent rule”?

It depends on the age.

Babies and toddlers are generally not affected by a parent’s deployment. However, when the parent returns, it’s not surprising that the younger child is shy and standoffish. Sad to say, the child quickly forgets whatever bonding occurred before deployment. Happily, the younger child quickly recovers and participates in the joy of the long-lost parent’s return.

Older children pick up on the stress.

The months before deployment can be stressful as the family prepares to make adjustments in routine, distribution of work and shifting to one-parent authority.  As one spouse becomes anxious, morose and possibly depressed over the impending prolonged separation, the children pick up on the undercurrent. They may even take sides against the parent about to “desert” them and regard the deploying parent as making a selfish choice of a military career over family stability. 

One-parent discipline.

Military spouses are by necessity strong and independent. When one-half of the “authority figure” deploys, the experienced spouse quickly shifts gears as the workload and authority shifts to a single person. Difficult or defiant children can be twice as difficult when one parent has to abandon the reins of control. When the deployment is over, there can also be problems with the returning soldier reassuming authority. (“Who is this person telling me what to do?”) 

Emotional stability.

According to Military.com’s “Deployment: Your Children and Separation,” military kids  “may experience many of the same effects as children of divorce.” The article also points out that the early days of deployment can be particularly rough as mail deliveries and pay allotments are delayed. Kids wonder what will happen to them, and they assume responsibility for stress in the family. 

Separation anxiety.

Military parents need to be on the lookout for sudden an unusual behavior problems brought on by a parent’s deployment. Does the child complain more about illness (stomachaches, headaches)? Are there signs of anger and inability to get along with others and even a general loss of interest? If so, these signs of distress need understanding, attention and intervention.  

On the other hand…

Ask any former “Army brat,” to find out whether there is an upside to one-parent absence. Children of military families tend to mature earlier in the face of challenges not normally experienced by other children. They have to be and are more independent and resourceful and cope better with transitory friendships. They discover the true strength of family life and quickly learn how to tap into the resources of their larger “military family.”