6 Impacts of Service Deployment on Military Families & How to Cope

Deployment affects military families in various ways.

Military families deal with all kinds of life stressors, including:

  • Geographic isolation from the support of extended family
  • Frequent geographical moves
  • The potential of deployment in a hostile environment; the military member
  • Recurring periods of separation

Military children, just like their civilian counterparts, undergo motivational and developmental life processes.

However, children in military families are subjected to unusual developmental pressure due the distinct military life demands, such as the absence of a parent.

Parental deployment is one of the main military family stressors that have been widely-documented. It’s a defining element of military life.

According to the Department of Defense 2012 data, the United States is home to over 2 million children with at least a single parent in the military.

Post the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, military personnel faced sudden, long and frequent deployments.

According to the Defense Manpower Data Center and Westat, deployments were made to Southwest Asian countries and the Middle East, including Afghanistan and Iraq, among other combat environments.

Military children experience stressors due to the deployments.


Military parents, upon returning from combat, struggle to reintegrate back into family and civilian life.

The 3 Phases of Deployment

Most people relate deployment to leaving for a combat environment and emotional goodbye between the deployed member and the family.


That’s just a small piece of the puzzle.

Deployment is broken into three phases:

  • Pre-deployment
  • Deployment
  • Post-deployment

The three phases of deployment affect military families in various ways, hence the need to understand how.

  1. Pre-Deployment

These are the days and months before deployment.

Military members and their families undergo various stressor, including:

  • Creating a will
  • Dealing with legal issues
  • Assigning a power of attorney
  • Children getting anxious and confused about the unknown
  1. Deployment

Children develop a sense of loss, emptiness and abandonment when a parent is deployed to a combat environment. However, some kids eventually develop new skills for coping with the situation and become independent.

Excitement and worry usually cloud the anticipation of a parent’s or spouse’s return.

  1. Post-Deployment

This is the “honeymoon phase” that military families experience upon the return of the service member.

Post this phase, many service members find it difficult to readjust to family life. When the member was deployed away, it’s likely the family underwent many changes in their absence.

Readjusting to family life is more difficult if the member returning from deployment develops post-traumatic stress disorder.

6 Major Effects of Deployment on Military Families


1. Cries, tantrums and refusal to eat by infants and toddlers 

Children react differently to the deployment of a parent with age playing a major role. No child is too young to react to the situation. 

According to studies, even infants and toddlers show signs of a parent’s absence affecting their lives. Infants may refuse to eat and toddlers throw tantrums and cry.

Young children struggle more with family dynamics changes because they don’t understand deployment.

The reassurance of being loved, safe, and that deployment wasn’t their doing can help infants and toddlers overcome the stressors of deployment.

2. Depression, anxiety, and tantrums in preschoolers

Deployment of a parent also affects preschoolers. They may experience:

  • Somatic complaints
  • Emotional reactions
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Withdrawal
  • Temper tantrums (starting or increasing severity)
  • Separation anxiety from the parent left behind
  • Change in sleeping or eating patterns

3. Change of sleep and eating patterns in school-age children

The stress level of the at-home parent, according to studies, is the main predictor of the psychological wellbeing of school-age children during deployment of a parent.

Moreover, studies reveal that children are also at a higher risk of developing psychological problems if: 

  • Their parents had been married for a short period before deployment
  • They have younger parents
  • They have junior-enlisted rank parents

School-age children with a deployed parent are two and a half times more likely to score “high risk” for behavioral and emotional issues on the Pediatric Symptom Checklist.

The psychological effects of deployment on children are likely to persist into post-deployment. 

4. The decline of academic performance and emotional issues in teenagers

Teens, according to studies, experience anxiety of the general wellbeing of the deployed parent. They’re likely to experience a decline in academic performance.

However, teens are more likely to show maturity and responsibility than younger children.


Longer deployment of a parent may cause emotional difficulties in teens. 

If the at-home parent has positive coping skills, the teens are likely to experience fewer maladjustment issues associated with deployment.

5. Emotional turmoil and added responsibilities for the at-home parent left behind

The deployment of a spouse can be stressful for the at-home parent. Some effects may include:

  • Emotional turmoil
  • Added household and childrearing duties
  • Pressure
  • Financial difficulties
  • Worry, concern or panic
  • Feeling overwhelmed

The behavior and attitude of the at-home parent can easily affect how children react to deployment. For instance, if the parent left behind is worried, the children are likely to become worried about the deployed family member.

6. PTSD and mental issues can affect military families

Returning service members experience readjustment issues due to PTSD. Signs may include:

  • Veterans shoving, shouting at or pushing their spouses
  • Children becoming fearful of returning parents (service members) 


How Military Families Can Cope with the Deployment Issues

Military families and children can cope with the effects of deployment as follows:

  • Self-care for grown-ups to ensure children aren’t affected
  • Talking about it
  • Doing something positive and relaxing activities
  • Taking care of physical health through exercise and indoor games for competition play or practice.
  • Limiting exposure to media news
  • Seeking help, especially for PTSD

Military families should seek professional help if they’re unable to cope with the impacts of deployment.