It’s normal for kids to change behaviors and act out a little during deployment, but our problems with our child’s behavior during this deployment were more difficult than normal. Maybe we anticipated more tears, a difficult bedtime routine, and lonely weekends. But we did not expect to get calls from the school that our formerly excellent student was suddenly ending up in the principal’s office for talking back to teachers and hitting other students.
This wasn’t our first deployment, so I already had some strategies to deal with the change in personality that comes when one parent leaves for an extended time. We tried extra love, attention and special activities. We discussed big rewards that would come after deployment, such as a family trip to Disneyland. When my child yelled at me, I remained calm and sent her to her room. My husband tried to back me up as much as possible via video chat. The trouble came when none of those strategies seemed to help, and when the behavior spread to her classroom.
Soon, we were getting phone calls from the teacher and the principal about my child’s uncontrollable outbursts. She was talking back to teachers, yelling at students, and even getting physical when she was upset. Luckily, the school had a large military population and was willing to work with me to find solutions. We all knew that her behavior was related to the deployment. But just because we could see the connection between the deployment and her anger didn’t mean that her behavior was easy to fix. I was on my own raising four kids, so I didn’t always have the time or energy to focus exclusively on my “problem child.” I quickly began to feel frustrated, exhausted and like I was failing as a parent.
If your child is acting out during deployment, you don’t need to feel like it’s your fault. And you certainly don’t have to solve their behavioral problems on your own. In fact, there are multiple free resources to help support military families during deployment. If you are struggling with your child’s behavior, contact these sources right away.
Resources for military children with behavioral issues
- School Liaison: If your child attends a school near a military base, there should be a school liaison who can connect you to local resources for military families. Even if you live far from a base, there will be a school liaison covering your district. You can find the list online here. A school liaison is a great first step to discuss options like guidance counselors, after-school programs, tutors or special education paperwork for behavioral issues.
- Unit MFLC: Most military units have a Military Family Life Counselor assigned to support family members during deployments. This is a social worker or psychologist whose focus is on the spouses and children of service members. They can assist in a variety of issues, ranging from stress to behavioral outbursts to challenging family situations. It is free to meet with them and discuss options, next steps, and what Tricare will cover.
- FOCUS program: The FOCUS class — Families OverComing Under Stress — is available for free on most military bases. This unique program was designed to help families adapt to military stress, including deployments and PCS moves. They work with parents and children to help families communicate better, lower their stress and anger levels, and move forward through traumatic events.
- Pediatrician: If your child is going through a sudden behavioral change, you may assume it is related to the deployment and them missing their parent. However, there are a variety of other things that can affect a child’s behavior, from sleep to diet to developmental disorders. It may be useful to meet with your pediatrician and fill out a questionnaire to assess the changes. Your child’s doctor can give you more insight into what you are dealing with and what options you have for treating the problem.
- Counselor: Often, it helps a child to have someone listen to their concerns and allow them to express their feelings. A counselor can help your child sort through their deployment emotions and find healthier ways to handle them. Remember that you can get free counseling from Military OneSource. A professional counselor can meet with you over the phone, via video call, or in person. They are familiar with the unique challenges military families face and often have insight to help military children. You can also get free counseling through Tricare with a referral from the child’s pediatrician. This would typically be to a local pediatric specialist you can meet with regularly at no cost to you.
When your child is acting out during deployment, it may feel frustrating and hopeless. But using these resources makes a real difference ― not only for your child, but also for you and the rest of the family. Take the steps today to learn more about these resources and put your family on a path to successfully navigate the rest of deployment.