Developmental Phases of Youth Throughout the Deployment Cycle


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Youth are complex, and their behaviors and feelings change over time.

It is important for mentors to understand how youth will respond to the deployment of a parent. Emotional reactions will occur prior to deployment, during deployment, and throughout reintegration. This lesson will identify the multiple responses youth experience at various developmental stages. Participants will identify the array of “normal” responses of youth to stressful circumstances. By recognizing that the source of behavioral challenges in youth may be due to stress, anxiety, anger, or feelings of loss, mentors can respond in more empathic and effective ways.

Understand the responses of youth to deployment.

At the end of this lesson, you will be able to:

  • Recall responses of youth to the deployment cycle at various developmental stages;
  • Identify the connection between youth behavior and emotional responses; and
  • Apply strategies to appropriately respond.End of text

The Phases of Youth

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Understand the different developmental phases of youth.

There are four basic phases of development:

  • Infants and toddlers: ages 0-3
  • Young children: ages 3-6
  • School-age children: ages 6-12
  • Adolescents: ages 12-18

Ages 0 – 3:

Infants and toddlers spend their time learning about the world around them. They are developing physically—learning to walk, talk, and interact with their environment—as well as emotionally—experiencing happiness, sadness, discomfort, etc. As a child ages, he begins to engage in physical activity such as running, moving, and games.

Ages 3 – 6:

Young children are more interested in processes than final products, and do not focus on finishing anything. They are naturally curious and try to make sense of their experiences. They expend a lot of energy running around, and often try experimenting within their environment.

Ages 6 – 12:

School-age children are active and begin to develop socially. They have interests that sometimes change rapidly, but need guidance in order to achieve their best performance. They are aware of older boys and girls, and often mimic or admire them. They ask many questions and need recognition for doing good work.

Ages 12 – 18:

Adolescents have high social needs and desires. Their peer group becomes very influential, and they begin to focus on coed opportunities. Their identity is emerging and they are beginning to understand who they are. In this stage, they reach high levels of abstract thinking and problem solving, and as a result, begin to develop a sense of responsibility.

Youth behavior and emotional responses are interconnected.

Although each child is different, there are various responses to stress that children in each age group typically exhibit. Infants and toddlers may respond with regression or excessive crying and screaming. For example, a potty trained child may return to bedwetting or needing a diaper. Young children may also regress and engage in bedwetting, tantrums, and crying. School-age children may experience developmental delays, eating and sleeping problems, school and learning problems, and regression. Adolescents can be extremely complicated with reactions ranging from violent outbursts to silent withdrawal. Their responses may include mood swings, self-destructive behaviors, anger and aggression, withdrawal, physical symptoms such as headaches and sleeping and eating difficulties, feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, depression, and identity confusion. The deployment of a parent may draw out any combination of these responses, so it is important to be able to understand and normalize their feelings of loss. Behavior is a form of communication, and a mentor can help his mentee recognize that all feelings are normal and that by talking them out, she can avoid “acting them out.”

Behavior is a form of communication.

Youth express their emotions through various behaviors. For example, externalized emotions may appear as physically or verbally aggressive behavior, but may mask underlying feelings of desperation and sadness. This is why some children and adolescents become violent and begin to act out when they experience sadness or loss. On the other hand, internalized emotions can be more difficult to identify. A child or adolescent may appear calm and reserved on the outside, but may begin to exhibit symptoms such as headaches or stomachaches. These physical symptoms mask underlying feelings of depression or anxiety. A great deal of communication occurs in the nonverbal realm. Many kids do not know ways to verbalize their emotions, so instead of talking about their feelings, they begin to act them out. Encourage your mentee to talk about his feelings.End of text

Phases of Deployment

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Learn the phases of the deployment cycle.

The deployment cycle includes three basic phases (although in other contexts additional phases are sometimes added): the pre-deployment phase, the deployment phase, and the post-deployment phase.

  • The pre-deployment phase: The pre-deployment phase includes the weeks and months leading up to deployment. During pre-deployment, Service Members and their Families are preparing for deployment by arranging finances, child care, legal matters, and anything else that needs to be taken care of before the Service Member’s departure.
  • The deployment phase: The deployment phase is marked by the Service Member’s absence. During deployment, Families create new norms and routines; often, adolescents take on extra responsibilities around the house.
  • The post-deployment phase: The post-deployment phase includes the initial reunion, as well as the struggles that accompany the following “normalization process.” Upon arrival, the Service Member begins the process of reintegration, and needs to readjust to civilian society and living with her Family. Often, there are challenges rebuilding relationships with the Family and finding ways to fit into the Family’s new schedule and routines.
    • Service Members and their Families face many challenges during the phases of the deployment cycle.

      The challenges of the deployment cycle vary from Family to Family, depending on their affiliation with which branch of the Service, their Family structure, and their Family’s resilience. For example, because Reservists often live far from a Military base, the phases of deployment can have challenges such as lack of community support and limited access to the services provided to Veterans through Active Duty Military installations. All Military Families, however, face the process of their loved one preparing to leave, leaving, and returning.End of text

Youth Responses to the Deployment Cycle

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Youth express pain and loss in different ways.

Youth often experience different reactions to different parts of the deployment cycle. Each phase brings its own challenges, and different youth respond in different ways. While some might externalize their behavior by acting out and loudly expressing their emotional discomfort, others internalize their feelings and begin to have physical symptoms. As a mentor, it is important to realize that a great deal of behavior occurs non-verbally. Behavior is a form of communication. For example, if a normally studious child with regularly good grades begins to act out in school and stops doing his homework, there is probably an underlying reason for the change in behavior.

Externalized emotions may appear as physically or verbally aggressive behavior, but may mask underlying feelings of depression and sadness. Internalized emotions can be harder to identify, but they also mask underlying feelings of depression or sadness. The internalizing of emotions may present itself as a series of headaches or stomachaches. As a mentor, you are not responsible for your mentee’s behavioral changes, but you can help. Teaching your mentee words to express his feelings can help him begin to verbally express his feelings instead of expressing them physically.

Youth experience different emotions during different phases of the deployment cycle.

During all phases of the deployment cycle, it is important for a child to have strong Family support, and to support her Family in turn. Although not all children have this option, familial support can help a child transition through the phases of the deployment cycle, help the child develop resilience, and potentially help the Service Member reintegrate back into home and civilian life more smoothly.

Each phase of the deployment cycle will cause different reactions.

  • Pre-deployment often causes emotional challenges for all members of the Family, including anxiety, fear, excitement, resentment, and guilt. Children of different ages will express their emotions differently, and most will struggle to overcome them and move forward.
  • During deployment, youth may experience emotions such as enthusiasm, pride, and relief, but can also face a fear of the unknown and a sense of abandonment. Changes in the household also take place, such as the rearranging of responsibilities and the development of a new schedule and routines. In addition, sometimes new caregivers come into play. All of these changes can cause many new emotions and behaviors from youth.
  • Post-deployment is a process of reintegration not only for the Service Member, but for his Family. Returning to civilian life presents many challenges for the Service Member, from things as simple as learning how to drive again, to more complex issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder or a traumatic brain injury. All of the difficulties involved in the process of normalization impact the Family. Youth can often feel afraid of their new parent who seems to have inexplicably changed from who he used to be. While the return of the Service Member may inspire elation and euphoria, it can also inspire resentment, anger, frustration, role confusion, and guilt.End of text

Communication Skills

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Ask open-ended questions.

Reflective and empathic listening is important for supporting your mentee, and there are many ways to be a reflective listener. Begin with body language. Pay attention to what your mentee is saying, and show that you are paying attention by nodding and making eye contact throughout the conversation. Repeat important parts of what your mentee has shared and then ask her to continue. Be prepared to provide validation for your mentee. Understand that her feelings are normal, and tell her so. It is important to realize that while you can never fully understand another person’s experience, you can imagine how hard it must be. Sometimes, it is best to simply state, “It must be hard to manage all of those feelings by yourself.”

Ask open-ended questions. These will help direct the conversation and give your mentee new ways to think about her feelings. Avoid asking “why,” as many youth don’t know why they feel a certain way. Instead, ask things like “What do you think this means?” or “What are some ways you can express those feelings?” In addition, avoid saying “I know how you feel,” as this might make an adolescent angry and defensive, thinking that you are minimizing her experience. Adopt an attitude of curiosity and concern; otherwise it is easy to make faulty assumptions.

Have coping skills ready to use.

Coping skills are an important mechanism for dealing with loss and other powerful emotions. Have some coping skills ready to share with your mentee. For example, listening to calming music, writing in a journal, and drawing are all coping mechanisms. Exercise is a coping mechanism you and your mentee can do together. Ask your mentee what he likes to do for fun and use that activity to help him address his feelings. For example, if your mentee likes arts and crafts, you might help him make a “While You Were Away” scrapbook or memory box to share with his deployed parent upon her return. Another example is making a collage; this can be a safe way for your mentee to address his feelings.End of text


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Understanding the phases of youth and their various responses to the deployment cycle will help you become an empathic and compassionate mentor.

Now that you have completed this lesson, you should be able to:

  • Recall responses of youth to the deployment cycle at various developmental stages;
  • Identify the connection between youth behavior and emotional responses; and
  • Apply strategies to appropriately respond.

To certify completion of this module, take the lesson evaluation found here. Once you have completed the evaluation, email or return the form to your Match Supervisor.End of text

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