Helping kids through ‘really bad days’

By Dan Blottenberger, Stars and Stripes
Mideast edition, Saturday, June 27, 2009
BAMBERG, Germany — The Army will place mental health counselors in two Defense Department school communities in Germany in the coming academic year to test a new program aimed at combating the stress students face when their parents go to war.  With soldiers’ repeated deployments, children in military families have begun to experience mental health problems similar to those seen in their parents, according to Maj. David Cabrera, acting director for the Europe Regional Medical Command’s soldier family support services office.  Some of the common effects seen in children are anxiety, generalized fear, and academic problems that even go as far as regression to previous developmental stages.  Younger children have a more difficult time understanding why their mom or dad is gone during a deployment. The concept of war can be difficult — or even inappropriate with young children — for many parents to explain, he said. Older children have become depressed or aggressive, and struggled at school and in social situations.  In a 2008 DOD survey of 13,000 active-duty spouses, 60 percent of parents reported increased levels of fear or anxiety in their children, and 23 percent felt their children coped poorly or very poorly while a parent was deployed.  “Some [children] were having behavorial issues in school, and some were coping well with the deployments,” Barbara Thompson, director of the Pentagon’s Family Policy/Children and Youth office, said in a DOD release this week. “It’s very clear that spouses were concerned about the cumulative effects of deployments on their children.”  Since fighting began in Afghanistan, deployments have affected nearly 2 million military children, according the release. There are about 234,000 children who currently have at least one parent deployed, the release said.

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