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Global conflict and unrest have led to deployment of large numbers of military personnel (active duty, Reserves, National Guard). As a result of duty assignments, members of the military are often separated for lengthy periods of time from their families and sent to distant, dangerous or unknown locations. A family that loses the active presence of a parent through separation faces significant challenges and stress. During the parent’s deployment, family members may feel isolated, unsupported and anxious. They may also experience financial stress. Media coverage of events can also increase concern.
Some families must also deal with the trauma of having a parent seriously injured or killed. Families who have little or no contact with extended family and/or the military community may be especially vulnerable to stress. In families with existing medical, emotional or behavioral problems, a parent being away can be especially difficult.
While most families and children manage successfully, it is important for parents to be aware of signs of stress and possibly serious problems. The responses of children to stress of separation are determined by their individual makeup and developmental age. The following are some common reactions:
Infants (Birth – 12 months) may respond to disruptions in their schedule, physical environment or availability of caregivers with decreased appetite, weight loss, irritability and/or apathy.
A parent leaving home on a military assignment increases the burden on all family members. The following suggestions can ease the stress:
Although a joyous occasion, when a family member returns home after a long absence, a period of adjustment will be necessary. Roles, responsibilities and routines must be re-established. The emotional readjustment will require time and patience. This can be a difficult time and all family members will need extra support. This is especially true if there has been a serious injury. If a parent or a child develops emotional or behavioral problems or is having serious difficulties with the adjustment, they should be referred for evaluation by a qualified mental health professional.
While it is a difficult time for families, most children can and do adjust successfully to the separation and stress involved when a parent in the military is deployed.
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