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NCCOSC > Families > Pages > resourcesForChildren > childrenAndTheStressOfDeployment  

Families Resources For Children
Children and the Stress of Deployment Hotline Help Numbers

Quick Quiz:

How many children in the United States have a parent currently in the military?
  1. 1 million
  2. 2 million
  3. 4 million
  4. 5 million
See below for answer

Children and the Stress of Deployment

Research has backed up what most military parents already know: Children of deployed parents face more challenges than other American kids.

A 2009 study conducted by the RAND Corporation found that having a deployed parent increases a child’s risk for emotional and behavioral problems.

Researchers found that across all age groups, children from military families reported significantly higher levels of emotional difficulties than children in the general population. In addition, about one-third of the military children surveyed reported symptoms of anxiety--somewhat higher than the percentage reported in other studies of children.

The types of problems that children reported varied by age and gender, according to the study. Older youths had more difficulties with school and more problem behaviors, such as fighting, while younger kids reported more symptoms of anxiety, according to the study. Girls had fewer problems in school and with friends, but reported more anxiety than boys.

The longer a parent had been deployed over the previous three years, the greater the chance that a child reported difficulties related to deployment, such as taking on more responsibilities at home, according to the study.

What’s Normal?

It is normal for a child to experience stress during a military deployment. Most families successfully endure the separation and have few major problems during the deployment or when the parent returns home. But difficulties do occur and parents may need more information or assistance to help children deal with issues that arise.

It is important to remember that children worry. They worry about the deployed parent, whether the non-deployed parent also will leave, and they worry about what will happen to them. Whenever there is distress in a family, it is common for kids to assume they are responsible for it. Children also are quite perceptive and will easily pick up on the feelings of the non-deployed parent.

The best preventions against excessive worrying:
  • Provide consistent support and loving assurances to your child.
  • Answer questions honestly in an age-appropriate manner.
  • Encourage your child to share feelings with you.

How Do I Know if My Child Needs Help?

Children display a wide range of emotions in their everyday lives. Listed below are some common behaviors and symptoms you may see in a child who is undergoing emotional stress due to a parent’s deployment.

You know your child best. If he or she shows an increase in the intensity, frequency or duration of any of these behaviors or symptoms, consider seeking the help of a qualified mental-health professional. Resources are listed HERE.

Pre-school children:

  • Increased crying
  • Changes in appetite
  • Bedwetting
  • Clinginess
  • Nightmares or night terrors
  • Fearfulness
  • Aggression
  • Diarrhea
  • Skin problems (hives, welts)

Grade-school children:

  • Worrying
  • Frequent nightmares
  • Anxious or depressed
  • Changes in appetite
  • Isolating self
  • Crying
  • Negative or morbid thoughts
  • Aggressive with others or with pets
  • Grades deteriorating
  • Asthma, breathing problems
  • Repeated infections
  • Stomachaches
  • Headaches
  • Skin problems (hives, welts)


  • Destruction of property
  • Frequent anger or outbursts
  • Oppositional or defiant behavior
  • Skipping school
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Stealing or shoplifting
  • Skin problems (hives, welts)
The answer is B. In 2009, there were 2 million military kids in the United States.