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Report IDs Dependent Stress Factors

A new study finds military kids are more stressed by the total number of months a parent is deployed than by the number times he or she leaves and returns, I reported yesterday over at Military.com. But that’s not the only interesting thing the study says.

My story focused on that somewhat surprising finding from this 2008 RAND Corporation study, released last week. For spouses, like myself, it seems that it’s the coming and going that are the hardest. According to this study, kids between 11 and 17 had more trouble with the overall time gone.

But the report also looked at other issues, such as the emotional health and stress of the at home parent, how that affects the child and how communications challenges and reintegration play into the whole thing.

The study found that the quality of communication with the deployed parent is more important to kids than the quantity of calls. And in light of your comments around our discussion around the challenge of those phone calls, that makes perfect sense.

Anita Chandra, the study’s lead researcher, said in an interview that their research showed a link between good communications during deployment and good communications during reintegration. The report recommends the military spend more time focused on teaching families how to communicate well before, during and after deployment.

Both youth and caregivers in the study said the hardest part about reintegration is “fitting the returning parent back into the home routine.” Youth also reported that “understanding their deployed parent again” was particularly hard, pointing back to the importance of good communications.

“The people that had better communication quality reported fewer stressors ... that begs the questions of thinking about what we’re doing” to help with communications, Chandra said. “Is the military prepared to help families think about this? Are there questions that teachers and pediatricians could ask about this? It was definitely one of the things that we checked off as being a key factor we should be thinking more about.”

And as if to bring the whole thing full circle, kids reported worries about the next deployment as their number two reintegration stressor. One thing is clear: time away from a deployed caregiver is not a cake walk for kids.

This study, Michelle Joyner, an official with the National Military Family Association (NMFA) said, gave researchers a chance to see just where support can be best used.

“That really presents an opportunity to better support families,” she said. “It was good to see that while a lot of families were really doing well and coping, there’s really some targeted ways we could reach out.”

Participants for the study were located through NMFA's youth camp Operation Purple.

The report also said that the emotional health of kids during deployment is strongly linked to the emotional health of their non-deployed parent. We already knew that was true, but it's a good reminder: you have to take care of yourself if you want to take care of your kids.

For military spouses, this research brings up a variety of enlightening points when it comes to kids and deployment. It can be easy to treat your kids as if they are having the same emotions you are and deal with them like you deal with yourself, when they may not necessarily be the best option.

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