Kids of Wartime Military Parents Face Heightened Emotional Trauma
Now, a new study finds, children of military parents in wartime are more stressed than even conventional wisdom might indicate and their mental health may dip.
The study, published in Pediatrics, shows military researchers found that kids younger than 8 may suffer more mental health or behavioral problems when a parent is deployed overseas.
The researchers studied more than 640,000 children ages 3 to 8 with a parent in the service and found the odds of having a doctor visit for behavioral or mental health problems were somewhat higher when a parent was deployed than when he or she was home, according to Fox News.
The findings add to evidence that parents' deployments during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been taking a toll on some children's mental well-being, Fox News reports.
The study found that, over two years, the overall rate of such doctor visits was 0.6 visits per child per year. That rate was 11 percent higher during a parent's deployment compared with when he or she was home, Fox News reports, adding that in 90 percent of the cases, it was the dads who were deployed.
This latest study indicates that these difficulties are also manifesting as increased visits to the doctor, lead researcher Dr. Gregory H. Gorman, of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md., tells Reuters Health.
The precise reasons for the extra visits are not clear, Gorman tells Reuters.
"Is it the separation itself?" he questions. "Is it the separation along with the wartime situation?"
In some cases, Gorman notes, the parent at home -- who is most often the mother -- may be depressed, and could perceive those same issues in the child. Alternatively, a child may pick up on the parent's stress and develop his or her own problems, he adds.
The findings, Gorman tells Reuters, underscore the importance of providing support to children whose parents are frequently deployed, as well as to the parent or other caregiver left at home.
"The military has a lot of resources for families," Gorman tells the news agency. Online resources include MilitaryOneSource and the American Academy of Pediatrics' military deployment website.
While the stress is apparent in children, being "over there," can also take its toll on parents.
Dr. Heidi Squier Kraft, a former Navy psychologist whose twins were babies when she headed a combat-stress platoon in Iraq, discusses the unique challenges mothers face when they deploy, in a CD called "Over There." She's joined by mothers from each service branch who deployed when their children ranged in age from toddlers to teenagers.
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.