When a Parent Goes to War: Effects of Parental Deployment on Very Young Children and Implications for Intervention


  • Partial support for this work was provided by the Department of Defense Grant W81XWH-08-1-0230 (Ellen DeVoe, principal investigator; Ruth Paris, co-investigator). The views expressed in this presentation are those of the authors and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of Defense or the US Government.

concerning this article should be addressed to Ruth Paris, School of Social Work, Boston University, 264 Bay State Rd., Boston, Massachusetts, MA 02215. Electronic mail may be sent to rparis@bu.edu.


Young children (birth through 5 years of age) are disproportionately represented in U.S. military families with a deployed parent. Because of their developmental capacity to deal with prolonged separation, young children can be especially vulnerable to stressors of parental deployment. Despite the resiliency of many military families, this type of separation can constitute a developmental crisis for a young child. Thus, the experience may compromise optimal child growth and development. This article reviews what is known about the effects of the military deployment cycle on young children, including attachment patterns, intense emotions, and behavioral changes and suggests an ecological approach for supporting military families with infants, toddlers, and preschoolers. Specifically, home-based family focused interventions seem to warrant the most serious consideration.