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Military Life Stress Impacts The Entire Family, Not Just Adults

By: Dr. Oscar Bukstein, Medical Director of DePelchin Children’s Center

While children often share in the positive aspects of a parent’s military service, they also share in the stresses that accompany military life.  As Medical Director of DePelchin Children’s Center, our psychiatrists and counselors recognize the unique challenges of being a military family and are here to offer support.  

Our number one goal in caring for children is helping them express and work through their emotions while helping families build healthy relationships that strengthen family resilience.

It is important parents recognize that while military life can cause many changes resulting in stress on the adults in the family, the children are not immune to these same stresses as well.

Several situations can have a stressful impact on a child, including:

  • A family’s relocating due to reassignment
  • Temporary loss of a parent due to deployment
  • Fears about the safety of the deployed parent
  • Permanent changes in families due to death or injury
  • Adjustment to family reintegration after deployment
  • Changes in the returning parent due to PTSD or difficulty adjusting to home life

As a parent or guardian of a child during one of these situations, it is important to not only care for yourself but to also pay close attention to the children in your care.

A child’s reaction to stress often varies with age. The following are behaviors common among different age groups:

All Ages

  • Problems sleeping, including nightmares
  • Fear, anxiety, or feeling insecure
  • Physical complaints, such as stomach aches or headaches
  • Problems in school or behavior problems in general
  • Clear changes in behavior from prior to the traumatic event

Pre-school (ages 5 and under)

  • Fear of separation
  • Increased aggression, crying, or withdrawal
  • Acting out fears in their play (“war games”)
  • Unable to comfort themselves

Elementary School (Ages 6-11)

  • Worried about safety or death
  • Return to behaviors exhibited at younger ages
  • Fearfulness
  • Easily upset or angry
  • Irritable or apathetic
  • Behavior problems at home and at school

Adolescent (Ages 12-18)

  • Angry, sad or depressed
  • Problems concentrating
  • Increased conflicts at home and school
  • Decline in school performance
  • Delinquent or risky behaviors

Seeking Help
Most children are resilient and recover from stressful events with support and encouragement from their parents. However, if changes in a child’s behavior are extreme or persist for a long period of time, parents may want to talk to a professional who has experience working with children and families. Visit www.depelchin.org to find out about our resources and schedule an appointment.