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Anderson County residents include at least 70 children who are military dependents from all branches of the military.
Frequent deployments have become a way of life in the past 10 years. Returning home is not necessarily easy for the families or military personnel.
Community members can help military families by understanding that no one reacts the same to coming home. Rejoice together at reunions and give families time and space to re-integrate.
Each family member will have different expectations about being together after a long deployment. Some of the ideas here came from Facts for Families published by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and from “When a Deployed Parent Returns Home” from the Military Families Learning Network.
Understanding deployment and reintegration from the child’s point of view is important to helping reduce stress for the child. Even though children are very happy to see their parent after many months away, the difficulties associated with deployment are not over and may continue well after the deployed parent is back at home. Over 30 percent of children still experience high levels of anxiety and stress once the deployed parent returns home.
Initially the excitement of the reunion is stressful for children. Children may be anxious and uncertain about the reunion. Developmental stages affect the child’s response. Toddlers may not remember the parent well and act shy or strange around them. School age children may not understand the returning parent’s need to take care of themselves and to spend time with their spouse. Children may need a period of time to warm up and readjust to the returning parent. This shouldn’t be taken personally or misinterpreted.
Extended family members also may need to readjust their role in the family. If they have provided extra support and service to the family during deployment, they may have difficulty redefining their role with the family.
Family problems that existed before the deployment frequently reappear after the reunion. The spouse at home and the returning family member may both expect extra attention and support from the other spouse. Both may want recognition for the contribution they have made to the family during the deployment. Patience, understanding and the ability to talk about feelings and shared responsibilities will help the family cope.
What can you do to help? If you are a family member, give everyone time to adjust to the changes that accompany returning military parents/spouses. Life goes on at home and all family members experience changes. Give it time and make the effort to form a healthy, new life together.
If you are part of the extended family, then likewise give the family time to adjust. Be a good listener and be non-judgmental. Problems and challenges will develop. Trust that the adults will be able to resolve issues.
If significant problems develop, the family will benefit from help from a qualified mental health professional.
Kentucky Military Child Appreciation Day will be on April 28 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the American Legion Post 34 in Lawrenceburg. All dependents from all branches of the military are invited. The Kentucky National Guard is sponsoring the event along with many statewide sponsors and local groups.
Joan Martin is a family and consumer science agent at the Anderson County Extension.