The Emotional Cycle of Deployment – Stage 1: Anticipation of departure

It is up to communities to help support military families by educating themselves about their unique challenges. Learn about the Emotional Cycle of Deployment and how you can support our military 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 that can have a lasting effect on our children, youth and families. The seven stages of the Emotional Cycle of Deployment include:

  • Stage one: Anticipation of Departure
  • Stage two: Detachment and Withdrawal
  • Stage three: Emotional Disorganization
  • Stage four: Recovery and Stabilization
  • Stage five: Anticipation of Return
  • Stage six: Return Adjustment and Renegotiation
  • Stage seven: Reintegration and Stabilization

As you read this article series about the Emotional Cycle of Deployment, it is important to remember that these stages 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 one is anticipation of departure. This stage generally starts around the time the service member receives their orders. During this stage, the family may have an increased feeling of stress in the home; the reality of the change ahead is starting to sink in. In addition, family members and service members may be in denial of the upcoming change and may start to have feelings of anticipation of the loss of their service member. Family members may feel more emotional. In the case of multiple deployments, a new cycle may begin before the family has had time to successfully navigate the previous deployment and can lead to more strife in the family. It is important for families to understand that their reactions during deployment are very normal and are in reaction to a very large change in the family’s life.

When families receive news that their service member is deploying, it is a good time for the family to access resources through their family readiness program and begin to try and complete their pre-deployment checklist. This checklist will help get the family ready for the deployment by gathering the proper documents, paperwork and complete other crucial tasks that will help the family navigate deployment successfully. Another way that families can prepare for deployment is to share information about the upcoming deployment with important adults in your child’s life so that they can help support your child during the deployment.

Other ways to support families during this stage include:

  • Openly communicating about the upcoming deployment. Be sure to share details at a level that is appropriate for your child’s age. Try to not keep things from your child because they will want to know where their family member will be. Encourage family members to share their feelings openly.
  • As caregivers, you have an important responsibility in your family’s life, however, you need to make sure that you take care of yourself. Be sure to find a support system for yourself for those times when you need a break.
  • Spend as much time together as a family as possible before the deployment. This is the time to make memories before his or her departure. Do activities that everyone can enjoy and be sure to take pictures so that you can use them to stay connected to your service member during their 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 theMilitary OneSource website, the Operation: Military Kids website and the 4-H Military Partnerships website.

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