Parenting during deployment: Children ages 12-18

Tips to help you support children ages 12-18 while their service member is away.

It’s important to remember that each family and each child is unique in how they deal with deployment.
It’s important to remember that each family and each child is unique in how they deal with deployment.

Deployments are a normal part of life for military families but they can still be hard to navigate. Experiencing the deployment of a service member can be a stressful time for children and family members. Children ages 12-18 understand why their service member is gone, but may not know to how to express their feelings about the deployment.

It’s important to remember that each family and each child is unique in how they deal with deployment. Not all children will show each reaction or some may show different reactions. Here are some common reactions and tips suggested by Operation: Military Kids, Ready, Set, Go Training to help children 12-18 during the deployment of a service member:

  • Children ages 12-18 may show some of these common reactions:
    • Decline in school performance
    • May have interruptions in sleeping and eating habits
    • Make efforts to distance their feelings
    • May show signs of depression or self-consciousness
    • Increased focus on self
    • May socially withdraw or have abrupt changes in relationships
    • Show signs of rebellion at home or at school
    • Show increased focused into current activities/groups to help relieve stress or retreat from current activities/groups in order to manage inner feelings of stress
  • To help support children 12-18 years, try the following:
    • Create a safe environment
    • Be honest about the deployment and help put things in perspective
    • Provide them with reassurance and support
    • Reassure that their strong feelings such as guilt, shame, embarrassment, etc. are normal and help them talk about what they are feeling and healthy ways to express those feelings
    • Encourage and provide opportunities to spend time with supportive friends or peers. Try and connect with other military families experiencing deployment
    • Consider participation in activities that the youth enjoy that provide opportunities to experience mastery, control, self-esteem and pleasure such as sports, art, acting, etc.
    • Reach out to the trusted adults in their lives to let them know what’s going on and how they can help support and talk about stress management with the youth

This is the fourth article in the Michigan State University Extension series Parenting During Deployment.

If you are interested in activities that can help your family prepare for an upcoming deployment, visit the MSU Extension website and take a look at the 4-H Military Family Booksheets. These are helpful activities to help families during deployment all based around children’s books. If you are looking for more articles about deployment support, check out Finding Support for Children and Youth with Deployed Family Members for a helpful checklist on who might support your child or youth during your service member’s deployment and the Emotional Cycle of Deployment that explains each stage of the deployment cycle and gives helpful activities you can do to keep your family connected.. You can also find additional deployment support information on the Military OneSource website, the Operation: Military Kids website and the 4-H Military Partnerships website.

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