To describe the effect of wartime military deployments on the behavior of young children in military families.
Childcare centers on a large Marine base.
Parents and childcare providers of children aged 1½ to 5 years enrolled in on-base childcare centers.
Mean externalizing, internalizing, and total symptom scores on the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL) (1½-5 years) and the CBCL–Teacher Report Form (TRF) (1½-5 years).
One hundred sixty-nine of 233 consenting families (73%) participated. Nonresponders did not differ from responders in their child's age or TRF scores. Fifty-five children (33%) had a deployed parent. Parents with children aged 3 years or older and a deployed spouse had significantly higher depression scores than those without a deployed spouse. There were no differences in the demographic characteristics between groups. After controlling for respondent's age, stress and depressive symptoms, deployed service member's rank, and total number of children in the home, we found an age by deployment interaction: children aged 3 years or older with a deployed parent had significantly higher CBCL externalizing and total scores (externalizing, 48.50 vs 43.31, P < .05; total, 47.71 vs 42.68, P < .05) and externalizing and total TRF scores (externalizing, 50.21 vs 45.62, P < .05; total, 48.54 vs 43.73, P < .05) compared with same-aged peers without a deployed parent.
This study is the first to show that children aged 3 years or older with a deployed parent exhibit increased behavioral symptoms compared with peers without a deployed parent after controlling for caregiver's stress and depressive symptoms.