Support Helps Children Cope With Deployments
(March 15, 2010)
WASHINGTON, March 10, 2010 – Children with a strong
nondeployed parent or caregiver and a solid support system
have a better ability to cope with deployments, two recent
studies have shown.|
Anita Chandra, a behavioral scientist from Rand Corp., and
Leonard Wong, a research professor from the Army War
College, highlighted the findings of these studies during
testimony to the House Armed Services Committee yesterday.
Both studies focused on military children ages 11 to 17.
“We had a very strong relationship between the caregiver's
mental health and their ability to cope as well as the
ability for their children to handle some of the deployment
stressors,” said Chandra, describing the findings of the
study “Children on the Homefront: The Experiences of
Children From Military Families.”
This independent study included more than 1,500 military
families, focusing on the well-being of youth ages 11 to 17
and their nondeployed parent or caregiver.
The study's goal was to show how children from military
families function with respect to academics, peer and family
relations, general emotional difficulties and overall
problem behaviors, Chandra explained. The study found that,
when compared to a sample of U.S. children, military
children have a higher average rate of emotional
difficulties at each age, she said.
Older children and girls, particularly, had a greater number
of difficulties during deployment, she noted. And the total
months the parent was deployed, rather than the number of
deployments, was related to a greater number of challenges
as well, she added.
Relating to family strength, “we found that caregivers with
poorer mental health themselves reported more child
difficulties during deployment,” Chandra said.
Chandra suggested that families may benefit from targeted
support to deal with stressors at later points in the
deployment, and not simply during initial stages. And,
“families in which nondeployed caregivers are struggling
with their own mental health may need more support for both
caregiver and child,” she said.
Wong also found a strong connection between family strength
and children's ability to cope with deployment in the Army
study, “The Effects of Multiple Deployments on Army
For the study, an anonymous, Web-based survey was issued to
a random sample of more than 2,000 active-duty soldiers, as
well as to more than 700 Army spouses and about 550 military
children between ages 11 and 17. The study focused on what
factors might influence the magnitude of stress related to
deployments, he said.
Wong found that the No. 1 factor in mitigating deployment
stress was a child's participation in activities, such as
sports, followed by a strong family foundation. Activities
serve “as a distraction to the negative feelings associated
with a deployment,” he explained.
Another, unexpected predictor of deployment stress was a
child's belief that the American public supports the war, he
“Sports as a diversion for deployment stress, that makes
sense and youth sports programs are relatively easy to
create,” he said. “But that the strength of a child's
perception of the American support for the war would be
associated with their deployment stress was a surprise, and
it's a much more complex issue to deal with.”
In addition to looking at what factors influence the
magnitude of stress, the study also examined how well
adolescents coped with deployments overall. Along with the
previous factors such as strong families, activities and a
child's belief that America supports the war, the largest
predictor of stress was a child's belief that the soldier is
making a difference in the world.
This finding is surprising, yet intuitive, Wong noted.
“These children understand that the Army is a ‘greedy'
institution demanding all of time, energy and focus of a
soldier,” he said. “They also understand from personal
experience that the family is a greedy institution that
requires constant attention and care.
“They see deployed soldiers caught in the middle of both
noble institutions,” he added.
Looking ahead, Wong noted the importance of building strong
families and focusing on activities such as sports to help
mitigate stress. A child's belief system, however, may be a
more complicated factor to tackle, he said. “The factors of
the children's beliefs, what they feel about the Army, what
they feel about the nation, make a difference,” Wong said.
“And so how do you influence a child's beliefs? That's a
critical question and that will have us thinking for a long
While the studies are useful, more work remains to be done
on behalf of military children, Chandra said.
“Both of our studies really point to the needs of older
youth,” she said. “What we hope from this work is that it
starts to identify some of the needs of older youth and
teenagers so we that can look at the programs we currently
have and try and figure out if we are aligning our programs
with those needs, particularly with adolescents, and
particularly those older adolescents.
“Despite the contributions of previous studies, significant
knowledge gaps remain, especially for older children,” she
By Elaine Wilson|
American Forces Press Service
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