The long war and parental combat deployment: effects on military children and at-home spouses

J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2010 Apr;49(4):310-20.


Objective: Given the growing number of military service members with families and the multiple combat deployments characterizing current war time duties, the impact of deployments on military children requires clarification. Behavioral and emotional adjustment problems were examined in children (aged 6 through 12) of an active duty Army or Marine Corps parent currently deployed (CD) or recently returned (RR) from Afghanistan or Iraq.

Method: Children (N = 272) and their at-home civilian (AHC) (N = 163) and/or recently returned active duty (AD) parent (N = 65) were interviewed. Child adjustment outcomes were examined in relation to parental psychological distress and months of combat deployment (of the AD) using mixed effects linear models.

Results: Parental distress (AHC and AD) and cumulative length of parental combat-related deployments during the child's lifetime independently predicted increased child depression and externalizing symptoms. Although behavioral adjustment and depression levels were comparable to community norms, anxiety was significantly elevated in children in both deployment groups. In contrast, AHC parental distress was greater in those with a CD (vs. RR) spouse.

Conclusions: Findings indicate that parental combat deployment has a cumulative effect on children that remains even after the deployed parent returns home, and that is predicted by psychological distress of both the AD and AHC parent. Such data may be informative for screening, prevention, and intervention strategies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Afghanistan
  • Anxiety / psychology
  • Child
  • Child Behavior / psychology*
  • Depression / psychology
  • Humans
  • Iraq
  • Military Personnel / psychology*
  • Parent-Child Relations
  • Parents / psychology*
  • Spouses / psychology*
  • Stress, Psychological
  • Time Factors
  • Warfare