Children of Military Families - Dealing with Deployment

Helping Children Cope with the Deployment of a Parent

Parental deployment is a form of loss that 3 percent of American children experience. In these cases, at least one parent is deployed, and this can be a very difficult adjustment for children, who may not be able to see or speak to that parent regularly, and who also may experience a great deal of stress when worried about his or her parent or guardian’s safety. Young children may experience feelings of abandonment or anger, and often these children do not know where to turn—some are told to be proud or “be brave for Mommy,” which may contradict the complex sadness or anger they are currently feeling.

 Adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, are traumatic events like parental deployment, incarceration, death and divorce or marriage separation that impact more than 61 million children in the United States. Research has shown that these experiences, if unaddressed, can significantly affect children’s learning, emotional and behavioral issues, including aggression and substance abuse, as well as impact health outcomes as adults. Childhood trauma can change pathways in the brain that impact impulse control and hormonal responses, and the high stress associated with these events can have long-term effects on health issues like disease and depression. While the existence of ACEs is a sad reality, parents, guardians, teachers and other caring adults can help children process these events and adjust to the life change in a healthy way. By reaching out to a child about traumatic experiences, validating his or her emotions, and serving as a support system, you can interrupt the connection between childhood events and long-term detriments.

Helping Children of Military Parents Address Emotions

The emotions of children experiencing a life-altering event may manifest themselves in different ways. Each individual reacts differently to loss, and children express themselves differently than adults might expect. Therefore, it is important to be aware of differences in children’s activities or behavior, and to recognize that children of military families may respond with sadness, anger, guilt or another emotion when adjusting to a change. Checking in with children and asking them how they are feeling is an essential first step to helping them express their emotions and showing them that they are not alone. Many adults may sense that a child in their care is suffering, but feel that they lack the ability to get a child to open up and share their experiences. Peer-to-peer settings, like those offered by Rainbows for All Children, help children to communicate more naturally and support each other, sharing ideas and feelings using age-appropriate language and concepts. These peer groups also emphasize that others are validating and supporting a child’s experience, providing a community in which children can process safely.

Addressing emotions with a child who is experiencing a loss can be intimidating for adults. Recognizing the consequences of childhood trauma can make even the most invested teacher or parent feel unprepared to help children deal with trauma, but Rainbows for All Children provides tools that are easily accessible online to prepare adults for facilitating sessions with children. The materials are categorized into age-appropriate curricula, and the E-Learning course format enables facilitators to learn and review at their convenience, making the ability to help children process traumatic events available to anyone.


Why Rainbows for All Children?

Parents and teachers who want to support the children of military families can recognize the conflicting emotions that deployment kids may be experiencing, and provide children with tools to address the complexity of the situation and move forward in a healthy way. Children can engage with their feelings through play, discussion, and art, and understand their experience from their own developmental standpoint.   

By joining the Rainbows community as a facilitator or a participant, you gain access to an effective and engaging curriculum, a community of peers for those experiencing a loss, and materials and training to help facilitators prepare. The Rainbows for all Children programming has helped more than three million youth over the past 32 years and continues to make the sessions available to all children, regardless of age, race, gender or financial ability. If you have a child suffering from a loss, click here to find a Rainbows group near you.