Military Deployment and Coparenting

Coparenting and Military Deployment: How Children Process

Author: Kara Moffett, MS

Since 2001, more than two million American children have had at least one parent deployed. (AASA, 2019) These deployments can cause may different emotional reactions in children of all ages. Studies show that children can develop anxiety and behavior problems when separated from a parent for an extended period of time (Tanielian, Karney, [JRB1] Chandra & Meadows, 2014) Knowing what children may understand and how to help them cope will help the overall well-being of a child.

Throughout childhood there are different stages of development. Jean Piaget, a swiss psychologist, created the theory on Cognitive Development which is used to help describe what children think and can understand at different ages and stages of development. When a parent is deployed it may be hard to know what to tell a child or how much they may understand. Every child is different, and they all develop at different pace, however we can use Piaget’s Cognitive Development theory to get a broad idea of what a child may understand at each stage.

Stage of Development

What they can understand/Reactions

What can you do to help

Sensorimotor ages 0-2

· May not know or remember military members

· Show them pictures of other parent and talk about them frequently

· Let them hear their voice. (Can be phone call or recorded video)

· The child may not even know the deployed parent but talk about them and how they will be back, this will help with the reintegration process.

Preoperational 2-7

· Children are thinking symbolically; they can make an object stand for something other than what it is.

· They can understand that their parent may be gone but that they still love them

· Parent can give the child something to have while they are gone so they can remember parent and how much they love them.

· Parents can ask for them to care for an item, e.g. teddy bear, special blanket, or shirt, while parent is gone.

Concrete operational 7-11

· Concerned with rules and routines, will want to know why parent must leave.

· Needs visuals to understand time better.

· Talk about deployment and why service member must go

· Talk about what will change and what will stay the same during and after deployment.

· Create something that represents everyday service member will be gone and remove one a day. Can use candy or paper chain.

Formal operational 11+

· Can understand more abstract ideas, will be able to think about what it will be like without service member/what it will be like when service member returns

· Talk to them about the different feelings the service member may have when they return

· Talk about how they can talk to their parent when they return

· Talk about coping and different ways to deal with feelings

Research tells us for all ages and stages of development, keeping rules and routines the same as pre-deployment will reduces stress and anxiety among children (Osofsky & Chartrand, 2013).

Activities to use with children:

· Talking about emotions,

· Sticking to routines,

· What changes, what stays the same,

· Have older children keep a deployment Journal they can share with parent when they return



DeVries, R. (1997). Piaget's Social Theory. Educational Researcher, 26(2), 4-17. Retrieved from

Osofsky, J., & Chartrand, M. (2013). Military Children from Birth to Five Years. The Future of Children, 23(2), 61-77. Retrieved from

Tanielian, T., Karney, B., Chandra, A., Meadows, S., & Deployment Life Study Team. (2014). What We Know About Deployment and Military Families. In The Deployment Life Study: Methodological Overview and Baseline Sample Description (pp. 5-12). RAND Corporation. Retrieved from

The School Superintendents Association (AASA) 2019. Fact sheet on the military child.

[JRB1]Same comment on superscripts

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