October 14, 2013
Deployment of our service members is not only difficult and emotionally tasking for them, it is just as tasking for their spouses and children. Children do not understand the reasoning and requirements behind a deployment, making it that much harder on a child’s psychosocial development. A child’s psychosocial functioning throughout a deployment can be influenced by many factors. (Flake, Davis, Johnson, & Middleton, 2009) Support systems, parenting techniques, and coping mechanisms have all been seen to impact the child’s psychosocial functioning and development. “Psychosocial functioning is determined by a child’s psychological development within a social environment. Psychosocial morbidity occurs when there is physical, emotional, or cognitive dysfunction.” (Flake, Davis, Johnson, & Middleton, 2009)
Keywords: Deployment, psychosocial, child development, psychological development
Psychosocial effects of a military deployment on children
There are 2 million military children throughout the United States that have a parent deployed or a parent deploying in the near future. (Card, Bosch, Casper, Wiggs, Hawkins, Schlomer, & Borden, 2011) The military child has hard ships that other children do not have or understand. Military children endure challenges that include ceaseless operational requirements and the continuous deployments that take their military caregiver into combat zones. The children that have one of their primary caretakers deployed into the combat zone, this can be one of the most stressful times for a child. The anxiety and stress that the parents are experiencing, starts to wear on the child emotionally and developmentally. There is a shortcoming in the research of psychosocial development the military child, some but not many studies have been done to understand the effects of a deployment on the military child.
There are four stages that describe what a military child struggles with due to deployment. The four stages are pre-deployment, deployment, reunion and post-deployment. (Flake, Davis, Johnson, & Middleton, 2009) Pre-deployment is from the time of notification of the deployment until the parent or caregiver leaves. The second stage deployment, can be tasking on the child, if raised by a single parent is sent to a relative’s home to stay while the parent is gone, or they now only have one primary caregiver. Reunion the third stage, is where the excitement and anticipation of the parent returning begins. The final stage is post-deployment, the reintegration of the parent into the family. All four stages affect the child differently, attributing to the emotional, behavioral and development of the child. (Flake, Davis, Johnson, & Middleton, 2009)
Often the time period right before a deployment will have the family in turmoil, parents trying to finish off the last few important items becoming stressed and anxious. The children start to pick up on the anxiety that their parents have and they react to this. (American Psychological Association, 2007) For a young child it is hard for them to understand the situation and do not realize that their parent is going to be gone for so long. (Brott, 2009) A child is very receptive to their surroundings and will respond to the anxiety that is present within the house. When a family is informed about a deployment the stress within the family structure builds. With the anxiety and the stress levels risen so quickly a child sometimes responds adversely by anger, withdrawing from the service member and emotionally detaching from them. (American Psychological Association, 2007) Emotions run high in times of stress, a child may also exhibit a regressive behavior.
Children of different ages and development react to a deployment in different ways. There are factors that come into play on how the child will react.