Military Kids Face Emotional Challenges as Deployments Grow, Study Shows
Stress is an unavoidable part of life for military kids, especially while a parent is deployed in a war zone.
A study published this month in the journal "Pediatrics" is the first to comprehensively explore the emotional and academic impact of having a parent deployed long-term.
The researchers explored the health and well-being of more than 1,500 United States military kids, ages 11-17, talking with the children directly and with their non-deployed parents. Among other subjects, the researchers looked at the impact of repeated and prolonged deployments, which have become increasingly common as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq continue.
"On the basis of caregiver reports," the study says, "total months deployed in the previous three years were significantly linked to a greater number of child difficulties" during a given deployment. "Initial resilience," they said, seems to wane as deployments continue.
Problems don't always subside, however, when the deployed parent returns. Some kids -- especially girls -- have trouble connecting with the newly-returned parent.
Among the families interviewed, older children had more difficulty at school, as well as within social circles, than younger kids did. Families living in a civilian environment, rather than on a military base, also reported more difficulty. And military spouses who described themselves as struggling emotionally were more likely to report that their children were also having a hard time.
They concluded that targeted support may be important for military kids, especially as massive deployments continue. The study estimates that 1.17 million American kids had a parent on active military duty in 2006, and 713,000 had a parent in the reserves. With the U.S. at war since 2003 and with the upcoming surge in troop levels in Afghanistan, parental deployment impacts a huge number of American kids.
Babette Maxwell, co-founder and executive editor of Military Spouse magazine, tells ParentDish that these findings will probably sound familiar to many military moms around the country. Having the emotional support of other military families is crucial during the stress of deployment, she says. Living on-base provides you with friends who know exactly what you're going through and who pitch in when you need help. Base families often share child-care duties.
That support system among moms whose husbands are deployed can make all the difference. "You know the cliche: If mom isn't happy, nobody's happy," Maxwell said in a phone interview. "All those circumstances are going to be heightened during deployment."
Maxwell says she's pleased that the subject is being explored. But she also points out that military wives, especially those with kids, have been instinctively banding together to address these challenges on their own for years. "There's a phrase we use: A 'battle buddy.' ... Everybody has that person."
Related: Single Mom Soldier Refuses to Go to Afghanistan, Kids with Deployed Parents Struggle with Behavior Issues
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.