Infants and Toddlers (ages zero to 2 years) Summary

The following is a summary of different reactions Infants and Toddlers may have during a parent's deployment. You'll also find parenting ideas for the deployed parent and the remaining at-home caregiver. For more in-depth information, check out our Typical Children's Behaviors and Helping Children Cope sections.

Anytime During the Deployment Cycle

Typical Infant and Toddler Behavior

  • Return to "old" behaviors.
  • Changes in eating and sleeping patterns.
  • Trouble self calming or adapting to change.
  • Increase in frequency of temper tantrums for toddlers.

Parenting Ideas

  • Keep a child's routine the same as much as possible.
  • Spend extra time holding or cuddling your child.
  • Stay calm and in control of your feelings.
  • Teach "feeling words" to toddlers.

Before Deployment

Typical Infant and Toddler Behavior

  • Child will react to the moods of those around them.
  • Easily upset or frustrated.
  • Difficulty calming down when in distress.
  • Toddlers will not understand "leaving."

Parenting Ideas

  • Embrace (cuddle) and reassure your child often.
  • Create comfort objects (i.e., a pillow with your picture).
  • Record yourself reading children's books for both toddlers and infants to hear your voice during your absence.
  • Take pictures together and place where child will see.
  • With toddlers, give a simple positive explanation of your departure and say "good-bye."

During Deployment

Typical Infant and Toddler Behavior

  • Child will respond to their caretaker's behaviors and feelings.
  • Fussy, irritable, or easily frustrated.
  • Clingy or refuse to separate from caretaker.
  • Toddlers may act out scary, frightening events in their play.

Parenting Ideas

  • Be predictable and consistent with expectations.
  • Spend quality time playing with your infant or toddler.
  • Talk about the deployed parent often at home and show pictures.
  • Allow toddlers to play out fears and offer positive solutions during the play.
  • As the at-home caregiver, take care of yourself — little ones need you to be OK.
  • As the deployed parent, call often if possible; video call so your child can hear and see you.

After Deployment

Typical Infant and Toddler Behavior

  • Child will cry, fuss and pull away from the returning parent; will not recognize the returning parent's look, smell and/or touch.
  • Show a preference for the at-home caregiver instead of the returning parent.
  • Toddlers will be confused with the parent's return and often act out with temper tantrums.

Parenting Ideas

  • Upon return, have a soft cuddly toy to use as an "ice breaker."
  • Initially let the at-home parent hold your child as you interact with them.
  • Play with your child — get on the floor with them.
  • Find ways to slowly join your child's regular routine — bathe them at night, feed them, help them dress, help them put up toys, or drop off/pick up from day care.

Red Flags for Possible Concern

Infant and Toddler Behavior of Concern

  • Extensive crying — unable to be calmed or soothed.
  • Considerable changes in sleeping or eating.
  • Significant developmental delays or loss of skills previously mastered.
  • High levels of aggression for toddlers.

Parenting Ideas

  • Talk to your child's pediatrician.
  • Seek help from a trusted friend or family member.
  • Seek help immediately with any life-endangering concerns.

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