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Youngest military kids said to feel strain

| Monday, July 22, 2013, 6:03 p.m.

WASHINGTON — At a time when the military has the highest number of parents among its active-duty service members and is engaged in the longest sustained military conflict in history, in Iraq and Afghanistan, research is showing that the strain on military families is being felt acutely by its youngest members, children younger than 6.

Little ones can exhibit the same anxiety, depression, stress and aggression that some older children and adults experience after living with multiple deployments, long separations and often tense and awkward reunions with parents returning from war, particularly when the parent has been physically or mentally traumatized.

A report released on Monday by Child Trends, a nonprofit research center, found that while children are resilient, war can take a steep and potentially long-lasting toll during a child's critical early years, when the brain is growing rapidly and children are developing a sense of trust in the world.

“We're concerned that children exposed to stressful events, particularly traumatic stressful events, will have difficulty learning to cope with emotions, to do well socially and academically, and even have problems with their physical health,” said David Murphey, Child Trends researcher and report author. “As these younger children grow up, we can expect there will be at least a subset of them that will face very substantial problems.”

Because little research attention has been given to young children, Murphey said, many parents don't understand why their children act out and often respond with anger, which serves to ratchet up family stress levels.

The report recommends educating parents and caregivers to better manage child behavior, providing greater mental health support for families and ensuring high-quality child care for military children.

Unlike during the Vietnam War, when only 15 percent of active-duty military were parents and most of them were men, today, almost half of all active-duty service members have children, and 14 percent of those are single parents.

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