How do young children respond to a parent returning from the service?

Very young children will likely not understand what is going on in their family when a service member parent returns home. Toddlers may not recognize or remember the service member parent. Prepare them as best you can with what to expect on the day of reunion. Do not insist that they respond in a particular way to their returning parent.

It is natural for children to act out or get over-excited when they pick up on the excitement (or stress) of the parents. Reassure them that they are still important to you, and spend a little extra time with them before taking private time with your veteran spouse. Even infants may respond to this change in the family dynamic, especially if they are getting less time and attention from the person who has been their primary caregiver. They may become apathetic, fussy, or have a diminished appetite.

Toddlers may react to less time from their caregiver with tantrums, sleep problems, or crying, and preschool age children may be clingy or aggressive. They may even revert to a more babyish level of behavior, temporarily forgetting their toilet training, or sucking their thumb.

School-age children may be whiny and complain that they are sick or have aches and pains. They may also feel excessively worried about both parents’ safety. Do not discipline or punish children when they act out in these ways; they are only behaving this way because they do not understand their own feelings. Your veteran spouse or partner may be upset by this behavior; they, too, need to accept how their children feel and not take it personally. Talk to your kids and let them know their feelings are normal and okay. It is a confusing transition for them. Try to maintain the routines of your household as you always have. Consistency makes children feel secure

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.