Workshops Help Soldiers Face a Hostile Force: Their Children

Filed under: In The News

workshops for soldiers

Researchers at the University of Minnesota want to make sure brave soldiers remain effective parents. Credit: Getty Images

Soldiers returning home from war often face another hostile force ... their own children.

Deployment can take a bitter toll on children, resulting in anger and resentment and reflecting in inappropriate and even destructive behavior.

Researchers at the University of Minnesota want to make sure brave soldiers remain effective parents, so they're holding a series of workshops to help them identify and respond to specific problems being away from their children can cause.

Minnesota Public Radio reports many of the soldiers are among the 2,400 men and women from the Minnesota Army National Guard scheduled to go to Kuwait next month.

In the workshops, public radio reports, soldiers learn how their children might become angry and lash out at them and the world in general. They practice techniques to deal with that anger rather than returning fire.

The program, called ADAPT (After Deployment, Adaptive Parenting Tools), is based on another program called Oregon Parent Management Training.

Lead researcher Abi Gewirtz tailored the program to military families.

"It's a parenting intervention that has been shown to be very, very effective at supporting parenting in other contexts, so our test is to see whether it works at promoting children's resilience in this context," she tells Minnesota Public Radio.

To tell if the program is effective, researchers will work with 400 military families with kids between the ages of 5 and 12 over the next four years. Some of the families will learn the new parenting techniques, while the rest will just get resources normally offered to military parents.

Researchers will track the families to see if the training is effective.

Thad Shunkwiler, a 27-year-old National Guardsman, tells Minnesota Public Radio the classes have already proven helpful for him. As a soldier, he is trained not to let emotions interfere with his actions under pressure.

"All of your training in the military is to react -- react, react, react, react, react. Not respond. Not think about it. It's to react," Shunkwiler tells public radio.

So dealing the children's emotions is whole new battle, he adds.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.