The Emotional Cycle of Deployment – Stage 4: Recovery and stabilization

Learn about the Emotional Cycle of Deployment and how you can support the military children and youth in your community.

Deployment can be a very difficult time for both service members and their families. Understanding the different stages of deployment can help provide a supportive environment for children and youth.

The Emotional Cycle of Deployment has seven stages. Each stage is characterized by a general time frame and specific emotional challenges that may be experienced. Failure to successfully negotiate these stages and challenges can lead to family and individual stress and can have lasting consequences on our children, youth and families.

The seven stages of the Emotional Cycle of Deployment include:

  1. Stage One: Anticipation of Departure
  2. Stage Two: Detachment and Withdrawal
  3. Stage Three: Emotional Disorganization
  4. Stage Four: Recovery and Stabilization
  5. Stage Five: Anticipation of Return
  6. Stage Six: Return Adjustment and Renegotiation
  7. Stage Seven: Reintegration and Stabilization

During the article series about the Emotional Cycle of Deployment, it is important to remember that these are general time frames, reactions and challenges that may be experienced by military families during deployment. Each individual and family is unique and will experience each stage in their own unique way.

Stage four is recovery and stabilization. This stage generally starts between three and five weeks during deployment. During this stage the family starts to settle into a life routine without their service member. Most of the time during this stage there is a mixture of positive and challenging responses for the family. During stage four, youth can experience positive changes by finding that they enjoy their new found responsibilities, that they are finding a sense of independence and that there is great relief that the family is functioning well. Youth can also experience challenges during this stage such as difficulty accepting the new changes. They may become stressed, depressed and have a difficult time getting things done. Youth may feel unsupported and may worry about how they will make it through their service member’s deployment individually and as a family. Many times during this stage a mixture of both positive and challenging responses are experienced by youth. It is important for families to understand that their reactions during deployment are very normal and are a response to a very large change in the family’s life.

During this stage there can be many mixed emotions as families adjust to their service member being gone. They can feel a wide range of emotions from anxiety and feeling overwhelmed to feeling surprised that things continue to move forward and begin to run smoother as the family adjusts to the change. Here are some tips that can support families during the Recovery and Stabilization stage:

  • Talk about what is going on within the family and openly listen to what family members are saying. Now is the time for families to openly share how they are feeling and what they need from others.
  • Try and keep routines as similar as possible. This isn’t always going to be possible but trying to keep some familiarity within the family routines can help comfort children during this stage.
  • Be patient while the family establishes new routines. Expect that there will be some slowdown of normal activities such as homework or chores. Support each other by listening and being willing to talk.
  • Expect that there will be some outbursts from time-to-time. Allow family members to express their feelings but in healthy and appropriate ways.
  • Include your service member in family routines such as dinners, bedtimes and school drop off. Although your service member cannot physically be with the family be sure to talk about them in conversation, hang a picture of them where family dinners are held, include them in bed time routines by telling stories that children will remember, although they are gone they should not be forgotten.
  • Information can flow freely from media sources or other families in the service member’s unit. It is important to not jump to conclusions and try to not listen to rumors since they can cause more harm to families during deployment. If you are concerned about something, talk to family members directly to avoid any miscommunication.
  • Reach out for support. If children and youth are having a difficult time adjusting then reach out for additional support from teachers, child care providers or other important adults that your child interacts with. If you are having a hard time adjusting, be sure to take time to find support for you as well. It is important that parents and caregivers are taken care of during deployment so that you can be at your best for your family during deployment.

If your family is getting ready for the deployment of a service member, check out the article Finding Support for Children and Youth with Deployed Family Members for a helpful checklist on who might support your child or youth during your service member’s deployment.

You can also find additional deployment support information on the Military OneSource website, the Operation: Military Kids website and the 4-H Military Partnerships website.

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