American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry


Global conflict and unrest have led to the deployment of large numbers of military personnel (active duty, Reserves, National Guard). As a result of duty assignments, members of the military are often separated for lengthy periods of time from their families and sent to distant, dangerous, or unknown locations. A family that loses the active presence of a parent, through separation, faces significant challenges and stress. During the parent’s deployment, family members may feel isolated, unsupported, and anxious. They may also experience financial stress. Media coverage of events can also increase concern.

Some families must also deal with the trauma of having a parent seriously injured or killed. Families who have little or no contact with extended family and/or the military community may be especially vulnerable to stress.
In families with existing medical, emotional, or behavioral problems, a parent being away can be especially difficult. While most families and children manage successfully, it is important for parents to be aware of signs of stress and possibly serious problems. The responses of children to stress of separation are determined by their individual makeup and developmental age.

The following are some common reactions:

  • Infants (Birth – 12 months) may respond to disruptions in their schedule, physical environment or availability of caregivers with decreased appetite, weight loss, irritability, and/or apathy.
  • Toddlers (1-3 yrs.) may become sullen, tearful, throw temper tantrums, or develop sleep problems.
  • Preschoolers (3-6 yrs.) are more aware of the absence of a parent than younger children and their behavior may regress in areas such as toilet training, sleep, separation fears, physical complaints, or thumb sucking. They may personalize situations and express a fear that, “Daddy left because I was angry at him” or “Mommy stays away because she doesn’t love me.”
  • School age children (6-12 yrs.) are more aware of the realities behind their parent leaving and the potential dangers. They may show irritable behavior, aggression, or whininess. They also may become more regressed and fearful that their parent may be injured or die.
  • Teenagers (13-18 yrs.) may be rebellious, irritable or more challenging of authority. Parents need to be alert to high-risk behaviors such as problems with the law, sexual acting out, and drug/alcohol abuse.

Although a joyous occasion, when a family member returns home after a long absence, a period of adjustment will be necessary. Roles, responsibilities, and routines must be re-established. The emotional readjustment will require time and patience. This can be a difficult time, and all family members will need extra support. This is especially true if there has been a serious injury. If a parent or a child develops emotional or behavioral problems or is having serious difficulties with the adjustment, they should be referred for evaluation by a qualified mental health professional.

While it is a difficult time for families, most children can and do adjust successfully to the separation and stress involved when a parent in the military is deployed.

Facts about Relationships

Postdeployment User Guide Transition Workbook for Combat Veterans
Naval Health Research Center

  • Make your relationships a priority. People can maintain a healthy level of happiness under many challenging circumstances if they have good relationships.
  • Relationships with family, friends, and coworkers are all important. None of these types of relationships should be underestimated.
  • Quality is more important than quantity. Most people do not actually need to make more close friends. Too many relationships may even spread you too thin.
    Most of us just need to invest more in the important relationships we already have.
  • It is important to actively plan ways to invest in and maintain your relationships.
  • Relationships where you are primarily helping others (your own children or other family members, volunteer organizations, or church)
    can lead to a high level of fulfillment and happiness.
  • Anger can help motivate you to take action, raise your energy to deal with problems, and help you act decisively in a crisis. However,
    it can also lead you to act rashly, get into fights, and even hurt yourself or others. If you think your anger may be causing serious problems
    for you in your work or personal relationships, or you are afraid you may hurt yourself or someone else, you need to seek professional help.


Resources for Family Support


Kids’ Turn – Military and Veterans Family Program
4909 Murphy Canyon Road, Suite 515
San Diego, CA 92123
(858) 521-0027

Workshop assists military families (both co-parents and the children) navigate through divorce, separation or custody dispute issues. Program also addresses issues such as deployment, post traumatic stress, base living and familial reunification.

Veteran Parenting Toolkit

Provides five age-based parenting toolkits on infants, toddlers, preschoolers, elementary school age, and teenagers, offering extensive information on childcare, education, co-parenting, family relationships and other resources.

San Diego Family Services
1104 Camino Del Mar Suite 107
Del Mar, CA 92014
(877) 880-7337

Located in San Diego County, we are very connected with our local military and we understand the numerous issues that go along with being a military family. In addition to issues surrounding deployment, there are also numerous issues related to frequent relocation and other military effects. This is why San Diego Family Services has created an entire arm of its organization dedicated to military personnel, their spouses, families, and children.

Talk, Listen, Connect: Deployments, Homecomings, Changes

In recognition of the contributions made by the United States Armed Forces, Sesame Workshop presents this bilingual educational outreach initiative designed for military families and their young children to share. We are proud to offer support to help military families as they face challenging transitions.

Resources for Marital Support


Chaplain Services, VA San Diego Healthcare System
(858) 642-3496

The Chaplains provide individual patient care as well as group leadership and marriage counseling.

From Warrior to Soul Mate: Reclaiming Your Relationship after Military Service

A free relationship-building retreats for returning combat Veterans. Our “From Warrior to Soul Mate: Reclaiming Your Relationship after Military Service” retreat is designed to help couples grow in communication skills and emotional wisdom.

FOCUS Resiliency Training for Couples and Families
Building 202860
Camp Pendleton, CA 92055
(760) 859-6079

FOCUS is a prevention service designed to help families address the stress related to deployment. The program includes the entire family and is customized to suit its specific needs. FOCUS is offered in several formats: family consultations, family level training, small group training, and workshops. During these sessions children and parents learn and practice key skills to enhance communication, problem solving, and family resilience. Training is also targeted for wounded, ill or injured service members and military couples.

Operation Homefront – Hearts of Valor
(800) 722-6098

Provides support to military and veterans’ families by caring for the caregivers of wounded, ill and injured service members. Program offers a variety of resources including retreats, support groups and an online community.

Better Marriages
(800) 634-8325 or (336) 724-1526

National network. Founded 1973. Membership network of couples who want to enhance their own relationship, as well as help strengthen marriages of other couples. Local chapters sponsor marriage enrichment groups, and retreats a workshops. Quarterly newsletter, leadership training and conferences. (Note: Not counseling.)

Family Communication
8401 Aero Dr
San Diego, CA 92123
(619) 388-1800

Family members learn to communicate through information and opportunities to practice positive communication techniques. Classes offered include anger management and couples communication.

IMPACT South Bay
7015 Alamitos Avenue
San Diego, CA 92154
(619) 424-7229

Provides classes to couples, singles and teens on how to develop and enrich their relationships. Classes include communication skills, problem solving, conflict management, budgeting, anger management and relationship enrichment skills.

Child Care Resources in San Diego County


Childcare San Diego – Centralized Eligibility List
2602 Hoover Ave, Suite #102
National City, CA 91950
(800) 521-0560

San Diego County CEL allows subsidized child development agencies to find children that are eligible for their programs. Families are ranked by eligibility factors such as income, family size, and need. CEL also offers resources on health and safety tips for parents.

Casa de Amparo Military Support Program
3355 Mission Ave., Suite 238
Oceanside, CA 92058
(760) 439-4149

Program provides specialized counseling support, advocacy, parent enrichment education and preschool for military children and families. Services include free childcare and preschool, play therapy and family therapy, and parent enrichment groups.

Children’s Home Society of California
2650 Camino Del Rio North, Suite 104
San Diego, CA, 92108
(619) 293-3411

Provides subsidized child care for low-income families in licensed private homes. Children from birth through age 12 are eligible, or until age 21 if child has special/exceptional needs.

Educational Enrichment Systems
4715 Viewridge Ave. Suite 210
San Diego, CA 92123
(858) 650-0563

Provides subsidized child care for low-income families with children ages 18 months through 5 years of age. Early care and education full-day centers are offered at development centers throughout San Diego county. Early care and education part-day preschools are offered for children ages 3 to 5 at preschools located at San Marcos Unified and Vista Unified school district campuses.

Together We Grow
5055 Viewridge Avenue
San Diego, CA 92123
(858) 751-0506

Provides preschool education and comprehensive childcare, including infant and toddler care, and before- and after-school programs for children up to 21 years of age. Early Start program addresses educational goals for special needs children. Also offers pediatric day care and skilled nursing care.

YMCA Childcare Resource Service
(800) 481-2151

Maintains a referral list of subsidized childcare programs, licensed childcare providers, including family childcare homes, childcare centers, Head Start programs, state preschool programs, and those who provide care in child’s home. YMCA Healthline provides free health and behavioral health services to parents and child care providers of children 18 months to kindergarten enrollment.

Children’s Circle
2041 Chatsworth Blvd
San Diego, CA 92107
(619) 222-6242

Provides childcare to low-income families. Children from 3 months to 2 years of age are eligible. Emphasis is placed on the child’s development, health and safety practice, appropriate social behaviors, and nutrition.

Resources for Adoption Services


Adoption Services, County of San Diego

East Office
198 West Main Street, Suite 102
El Cajon, CA 92020
(877) 423-6788

Main Office
6950 Levant St, Mail Stop W-94
San Diego, CA 92111
(877) 423-6788

South Office
1000 Bay Marina Dr
National City, CA 91950
(877) 423-6788

North Coastal Office
1320 Union Plaza Ct
Oceanside, CA 92054
(877) 423-6788

North Inland Office
463 North Midway Dr, Ste 200
Escondido, CA 92027
(877) 423-6788

Offers adoption services for all members of the adoption triad (birth parents, adoptees, and adoptive parents) including: Child Welfare Services, birth parent services, independent adoptions, step-parent adoptions, post-adopt services, adoption assistance program, and guardianship.

Adoption Alliance of San Diego
8804 Balboa Avenue
San Diego, CA 92123
(858) 637-3060

Adoption Alliance of San Diego is a Hague Accredited licensed adoption agency in Southern California. Licensed to complete international adoption services for residents in Southern California. Offers pre and post-placements services, parenting education, adoption and post-adoption counseling. Also conducts quarterly informational seminars for prospective adoptive parents and organizes a yearly adoption conference for the local community.