Transitioning Through Reunion
A parent's return home after deployment is often a time of celebration. It can also be a time of stress as families adjust to being back together. During this transition period, it is common for family members to experience a range of emotions, including excitement and anxiety or concern about changing family roles. This article highlights common reactions that children may have after a parent returns home. It suggests how to respond to these behaviors and offers tools and resources that military families can use to build family resilience during the reunion phase of deployment.
Common Reactions in Children After Deployment
A service member's homecoming can be stressful for the entire family. During deployment, family roles may have changed, new routines were likely established and new sources of support were found. Children may have grown physically, emotionally, socially and spiritually.
Children will respond to a reunion differently depending on their emotional development, personality and age. Keep in mind that some reactions are a normal part of the developmental process, such as temper tantrums in toddlers and rebellious behavior in teenagers. Other and prolonged reactions may indicate adjustment issues related to the reunion. The table below outlines some common reactions children may have after deployment based on age: 1,2,3
Helping Children Reconnect
It usually takes families six months to a year to fully reintegrate after a deployment.1 During this time, it is important that parents slowly and naturally reestablish family connections.3 The following table provides some ideas that can help children cope with their emotions and reestablish family connections during a reunion:1, 4
Coming home after a deployment can be especially challenging for single parents. Single parents may feel anxious about the bond their children formed with the caregiver. The parent may also be concerned about strengthening their own bond with their children. To make this transition easier, single parents can: 1,5
- Involve the caregiver in the transition. Communicate openly and frequently with the caregiver and your children. Your children most likely formed a strong bond with the caregiver while you were gone and keeping your children in touch with the caregiver will help ease the separation. If the caregiver lives far away, call with updates on how you and your children are doing.
- Ask how things were done while you were gone. Learn about routines, rules and discipline methods that the caregiver established. Try to integrate this information back in your own rules and schedules to ease the transition.
Resources for Families Transitioning Through a Reunion
If at any time you would like support, don't hesitate to reach out for help. Resources include both medical and non-medical counseling as well as programs such as the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program and the Transition Assistance Program.6 Additionally, several organizations also partner with the Defense Department to provide fun and therapeutic reintegration activities for military families. Opportunities include:
- Armed Forces Foundation's Outdoor Sports Program
- National Military Family Association's Operation Purple Family Retreats
- Operation Military Kids
- Sierra Club's Wilderness Outings
To find more military family activities and resources in your area, visit Challenge America's family resources directory.
Returning home to a new addition to the family is a unique challenge. If you were away for the birth of your baby, you'll be coming home to a whole new family. Read the Military OneSource article, Becoming a New Father While Deployed to learn ways for you and your baby to bond.
As a parent reintegrating back into family life, it is important to remember that while you were deployed your children will have grown and developed. Remember to have patience and to let the relationships rebuild naturally. It is important to maintain open communication and have realistic expectations. Keeping some of the tips and resources outlined in this article in mind can help reestablish family relationships and set your family up for a smoother transition through a reunion.
- Air Force Youth Programs
- Blue Star Families
- Coming Home: A Guide For Service Members Returning from Mobilization/Deployment
- Family Resilience Training (Army)
- FOCUS Project
- Military Families Coping with Change
- Military Kids Connect
- National Center for PTSD
- Operation Military Kids
- Return and Reunion (Navy)
- Returning to Family Life after Deployment
- Sesame Street Military Families Near and Far
- Talk, Listen, Connect
2 "Helping Your Preschooler Deal with Your Deployment," Military OneSource. Last accessed May 29, 2013.
3 "Helping Your School-Aged Children Deal with Your Deployment," MilitaryOneSource. Last accessed May 29, 2013.