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Developmental and behavioral implications for military children with deployed parents

Eric Flake, MD, FAAP
Section Editors
Jan E Drutz, MD
Marilyn Augustyn, MD
Deputy Editor
Mary M Torchia, MD


With the United States military involved in conflicts around the world, more children in military families experience parental absence [1]. For a military child, wartime deployment can mean prolonged separation from a parent, fear for that parent's safety, and increased uncertainty in daily routine.

This topic will provide an overview of the developmental and behavioral implications of deployment for children of parents in the military.


Deployment is a way of life for military families [2]. Among the 3.5 million active duty and reserve military members in 2015, 34 percent were married with children, 6.3 percent were single parents, and 2.2 percent were dual military families with children [3]. In 2015, approximately 1.8 million United States children had at least one parent in the military; 62 percent had a parent in the active duty component, and 38 percent in the reserve component (National Guard or Reserve). Approximately 37 percent of children in military families were younger than 6 years, 31 percent were age 6 to 11 years, 24 percent were 12 to 18 years, and 7 percent were 19 to 22 years.


Deployment – A deployment is the short-term assignment of a military service member to a combat or noncombat zone. A deployment can last from 1 to 18 months, with typical deployments lasting 12 to 15 months [4]. Deployments can be planned or unexpected.

Active duty – The term active duty refers to military members who are serving full time in their military capacity. The active duty military consists of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard. The Army has the largest active duty force (>528,000), followed by the Air Force (>326,000), Navy (>319,000), Marines (>195,000), and Coast Guard (>40,000) [5]. Active duty military members and their families usually live on or near a military base and have access to military support services [6].

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: May 11, 2017.
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