Military Families

military-families148sqThe Battle Isn’t Only Abroad

Curious person: “What kind of therapy do you do?”

Me: “I work with Military Families.”

Curious person (nine times out of ten): “Oh, that must be so hard … treating the Soldiers when they come back with PTSD.”

Me: “Yes, very hard. But the Service Members are not the only survivors of war.”

Curious person: puzzled looking face.


A Multi-Layered Impact:

There have been uncountable war-related tragedies in the last decade: lost limbs; horrifying sights; buddies killed during combat; exposure to blasts; brain injuries; crushed spirits; and fatalities. These awful truths are what we hear about most.

However, it doesn’t take a tragedy for a Service Member and the Family to be heavily impacted by war. Deployment (before, during, and after) takes a toll on everyone. And it is very rare that a family experiences just one. It is a continuous cycle that the family rides for many years; sometimes, during a child’s entire upbringing.

The Kids: 

Military kids are frequently the most resilient  and joyful children that I’ve ever had the pleasure to to work with. Due to deployments and moves: these kids endure continual separation from one or both of their parents; have to make new friends all the time; are forced to adapt to new school settings and learn new curriculums (or repeat old ones); put up with teasing and bullying by their peers; and take on extra responsibilities at home.  These challenges can impact them emotionally and potentially impede successful milestone development.

The following are some things to consider about children and the impact of separation and change:

  • Infants & Toddlers-
    • Responsive to changed routines, physical environment, and caretaker availability
    • Disruption in infant care can lead to poor regulation: won’t eat, more fussy, less energy, less interest in things
    • Generally take their cue from the primary caregiver (eg: cranky & sleep deprived parent at home = cranky baby)
    • Expectable reactions to stress in toddlers: tantrums, irritability and sadness
  • Pre-School Aged Children-
    • Are often confused, surprised, and feel guilt
    • Might display disruptive behaviors and tantrums
    • Could have milestone regression (eg: bedwetting, clinginess, refusal to sleep alone)
    • Become dis-regulated by excitement (both good and bad)
    • Can be shy or may not even remember a parent who’s returned from deployment
    • Take their cues from their parents (eg: stressed parent at home = tantruming child at home.)
  • School Aged Children
    • Can be sad, angry, anxious, and lonely
    • Feel responsible, perhaps thinking “I caused this”
    • Might have difficulties in the classroom: Disruptive or Inattentive
    • Often experience somatic complaints (eg: visits to the nurse’s office with tummy-aches.)
    • May engage in attention seeking behavior … good or bad
  • Teens
    • React differently: some are angry, some feel rejected, some deny having any feelings
    • Are exposed to more media; thus, have a better comprehension of the word’s affairs
    • Have difficulty reintegrating when the Service Member comes home (They can no longer rule the roost!)
    • Frequently act aloof, saying “I don’t care about deployment. I’m used to it.”
    • Can engage in more risky behaviors; eg: sneaking out of the house; consuming alcohol; shoplifting

The Couple:

  • The Service Member

    • Have a life changing experience which only they can understand
    • Are physically and emotionally disconnected from his/her family
    • May possibly experience physical and/or psychological injury
    • Have high expectations for the return home
    • May be very pre-0ccupied with the deployment experience
    • Often feel like an outsider when trying to integrate back into the family
    • Don’t always feel like being intimate with their partner
  • Romantic Partner or Spouse
    • Are physically and emotionally disconnected from their companions
    • Perform double (triple) duty at home & are often exhausted!
    • Learn to handle new “crises” at home on their own
    • Can grow resentful that they don’t get credit
    • Have very high expectations about the return home
    • May not want to lose their autonomy that they gained while on their own

This all has a Systemic Impact on the Entire Family

Systemic Effect of Military Ops.001


When working with military families, I work hands-on with them to develop skills so that they will be better equipped to handle the challenges that accompany the military lifestyle. Many of the problems listed above can be prevented if the family members can put their heads together before instead of after these transitions.

Skills Practiced in Session:

  • Making a “stress-kit” of personalized tools to handle the tough times
  • Learning How to Hold a Family Meeting: allowing for discussion of expectations, Q&A about logistics, expression of feelings, time to bring the family closer
  • Prepare problem-solving strategies
  • Create time-marking tricks to help the family get thru it!
  • Develop methods for keeping the family connected while separated

These are skills that are great to do ahead of the game! However, we can also learn and practice these skills at any stage in a transition (before, during, and after.)


Like the Resilient Tree, the Military Family Must

Remain Strong and Grounded, but also be Versatile and Adaptable