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Reintegration and Family Dynamics

Overview

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The reintegration process can be difficult for Families to navigate.

When a Service Member is deployed, children and the remaining parent or guardian go through a significant adjustment period. Typically, a deployment requires the at-home parent and children to take on new or additional responsibilities. When the deployed parent returns, the Family system is disrupted and it can take time for children to adapt to their parent’s re-entry into the Family. For young children especially, even just a few months of deployment can seem like a lifetime. For the deployed parent, although he may have high hopes about the reunion with his Family, he may also be surprised or disappointed by the way his children react to him. It can be a confusing time for children of all ages as they learn to accept their parent back into their lives, and it’s natural for them to have the same feelings of apprehension and fear that they did before the deployment. As a mentor, it is important for you to identify the wide array of responses children of different ages can have during reintegration so that you can better understand your mentee’s various needs to enhance a positive reintegration experience.

Understand Family dynamics and the reintegration process.

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

  • Identify unique challenges faced by Military Families;
  • Identify child behavioral and emotional responses to reintegration; and
  • Apply strategies to enhance a positive reintegration experience.End of text

Unique Challenges

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Service Members and Families face unique challenges.

Service Members who have been exposed to traumatic events will likely have traumatic stress responses. It’s important to remember that many of these responses are normal and are to be expected. Not all people exposed to traumatic events go on to have posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD); however, the Service Member will likely experience high states of arousal even when no longer in danger. Some of these stress states may result in an increased startle response, irritability, anxiety or depression, difficulty concentrating, and difficulty sleeping. Understanding these stress responses will allow mentors to respond in supportive ways to youth who are experiencing the return a parent who may be affected by PTSD or high states of stress arousal.

In addition, a parent’s return may simply be one transition out of many. For children, these multiple homecomings require ongoing adjustments and time to adapt. It is normal that children may feel a strong loyalty to the parent who remained at home and may be less responsive to the authority exercised by the returning parent. In general, children of any age may respond to the homecoming in ways different from what the Service Member expected.

Reintegration is a process that leads to a new “normal.”

Despite the different challenges they face, all Service Members and their Families will go through the reintegration process. This process is the stage of the deployment cycle where Service Members return to their daily life, rejoin Family routines, and return to work. Within reintegration there are several phases, the first phase being characterized by anticipation for the deployed parent’s homecoming. This return home may be especially exciting for younger children. As a mentor, you can help your mentee make something special, such as “Welcome Home” signs, food, or handmade gifts for the occasion. The homecoming is closely followed by a “honeymoon” phase which can be filled with a flurry of excitement and celebrations and a sense of relief at the deployed parent being home safe.

During the next six to nine months, Families typically work on reorganizing their roles and responsibilities and finding cohesion as a Family unit again. What this looks like for each Family will be different depending on their needs, strengths, and circumstances. For the deployed parent, this process can make clear that the skills they found useful in combat are not so helpful in Family life. As a result, many Families find the renegotiation of roles and responsibilities to be one of the most challenging adjustments to make. Working through these feelings, Family tension, and new emotions is part of the process of creating new routines and building a new sense of “normal” within the Family.End of text

Responses of Young Children

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Young children can have trouble understanding the reintegration process.

When a deployed parent returns home, children may be feeling some of the same confusing emotions that the Service Member feels, such as excitement, happiness, worry, and stress. The child may find it difficult to emotionally reconnect to the returning parent if he knows the parent might be leaving again. Younger children may be confused about why the parent left and they probably don’t understand about “duty” or “mission.” They may not know what to expect from the returning parent. School-age children can also have anxiety about the reunion of the Family and may have unrealistic expectations about how great the reunion will be or how smoothly the reintegration process will unfold. It’s important for the parent, youth, and mentors to understand that during the parent’s deployment, the child has likely changed physically, cognitively, and emotionally and may not behave the way the Service Member remembers. This can be another surprising challenge to the reintegration process.

Children will display a range of emotional and behavioral responses.

After a long separation, preschool-age children may need time to warm up to the returning parent. Parents can also set an example by letting children see them hug and show affection with each other. It is helpful for mentors to recognize the following common reactions so they, too, can support the child through this adjustment period.

  • Acts out to get attention
  • Shows anger
  • Is demanding of the parent
  • Feels guilty for making the parent go away
  • Talks a lot to bring the parent up to date

School-age children are more likely to feel very proud of their Service Member and respond joyfully to the homecoming. They may also demand a lot of attention from their returning parent. Other behaviors they may exhibit are below.

  • Feels excited
  • Boasts about Military service and parent
  • Talks constantly
  • Fears Service Member’s return because of discipline
  • Feels guilt about not doing enough or being good enoughEnd of text

Responses of Teens

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Teens have a unique perspective on deployment.

Unlike younger children who may be unaware of some of the realities of a deployed parent, teens are in a unique position to appreciate and feel especially proud of the service of their parent. Many teens feel stronger as a result of growing up in an environment focused on service and sacrifice, and see their mom or dad as a hero for serving their country. Conversely, teens are also more aware that their parent’s service requires frequent moves, the youth taking on more responsibility at home, and the parent missing certain milestones when deployed. It is useful for mentors to have an understanding of the perspectives teens may have of their parent’s service and the reintegration process so they can identify behavioral responses.

Adolescent responses to reintegration can vary widely.

Adolescents can have a variety of responses to the return of a parent from being deployed. In many cases, because they are older and able to take on more responsibility, they experience a bigger reorganization of roles and responsibilities when a parent returns. Some of the emotional and behavioral responses they display are below.

  • Feels excited
  • Feels guilty about not living up to standards
  • Is concerned about rules and responsibilities
  • Acts disinterested in parent’s return
  • Is not willing to change plans to spend extended time with returned parent
  • Is rebellious

Service Members must reestablish themselves in their teenagers’ lives.

During the reunion process, returning Service Members need to show genuine interest in their teenage children. It’s important to be patient and avoid judging or criticizing teens. Sometimes teenagers will be loyal to the parent who remained at home and not respond to discipline from the Service Member. Also, the returning parent may disapprove of the privileges granted by the non-deployed parent. However, it’s usually best for returning parents to go with the routines and discipline that were set up while they were gone instead of trying to make changes right away. Understanding these complex Family dynamics can help mentors better comprehend the circumstances their mentees might find themselves in at home. The challenges of the reintegration process are not contained and they can have a spill-over effect on the mentee’s social function and behavior.End of text

Strategies for Successful Reintegration

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Develop strategies for supporting young children with reintegration.

The emotional and behavioral responses of young children can vary widely. Not surprising, so too can the techniques to support the child. Some general strategies are listed below.

  • Help set realistic expectations for reunion
  • For children who are very excited about “showing off” their parent, make a plan that staggers the attention or praise the child wants to show the parent
  • Encourage the child to share stories or projects from school that she has been working on
  • Explain that her parent loves her very much and has some of the same feelings of confusion or stress that the child does
  • Propose new outlets, such as writing or drawing, for the child to release her energy/anxiety/fear
  • Help the child make a picture book or scrapbook of favorite memories so she can share it with the parent

Apply strategies for supporting adolescents with reintegration.

Adolescents can be a more challenging group to support because they are more aware of the challenges of reintegration, especially if they recognize that their parents are stressed or tense as they renegotiate Family responsibilities. Some strategies for how to support teens during reintegration are below.

  • Encourage him to ask his returning parent to share stories of what happened during deployment
  • Encourage him to share with his parent what he has been up to
  • Praise his strength and what he has accomplished while his parent has been away, emphasizing how proud the parent also is
  • Encourage the teen to be patient with the returning parent and explain that the parent may also feel confused or unsure of how to act around him
  • Be patient and listen with undivided attention
  • Be flexible but firm and don’t give in to all of his demands
  • Remind him of how he has been resilient in the pastEnd of text

Summary

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

  • Identify unique challenges faced by Military Families;
  • Identify child behavioral and emotional responses to reintegration; and
  • Apply strategies to enhance a positive reintegration experience.

Check out these resources for more information on reintegration for children and teens.

After Deployment – www.afterdeployment.org

A website that provides wellness resources for Service Members and Families, including assessment tools, videos, and links to other support organizations.

Operation: Military Kids – www.operationmilitarykids.org

A website sponsored by the U.S. Army to support children and youth impacted by deployment.

Military OneSource – www.militaryonesource.mil

A resource provided by the Department of Defense to Active Duty Guard and Reserve (regardless of activation status) and their Families. It provides 24-hour access to information and help on how to deal with the challenges Military Members and Families face every day.

Click the Resources button for additional tools that will help you support your mentee through reintegration.

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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