Preschool Children (ages 3 to 5) Summary

The following is a summary of different reactions Preschool Children 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 Preschooler Behavior

  • Return to outgrown "baby" behaviors.
  • Emotional, irritable, easily frustrated.
  • Increase in temper tantrums.
  • Physical reactions, including stomach aches, loss of appetite, and headaches.

Parenting Ideas

  • Provide frequent physical reassurance (hugs or cuddling).
  • Maintain a consistent routine as much as possible.
  • Communicate with your preschooler. Ask them what they think. Continue to teach feeling words. If they are upset, ask them to tell you how they feel instead of showing you.
  • As the at-home caregiver, take care of yourself. Stay in control of your feelings.

Before Deployment

Typical Preschooler Behavior

  • Child will not understand the concept of deployment or that a parent is "leaving" and will "come back."
  • Will not understand the meaning of time or "6 months."
  • Reacts to and mimics the emotions or behaviors they see at home.
  • Easily misunderstands information they are told or hear.

Parenting Ideas

  • Provide a simple positive explanation about your absence and say "goodbye."
  • Make a list of important days that the deployed parent will especially try to call (i.e., birthdays, first day of school, etc.).
  • Reassure your child about who will look after them while you are away.
  • Show your child calm, patient, in-control behavior.
  • Create comfort objects with your child, for example frame pictures, build-a-bear, or a macaroni necklace.
  • Inform your child's school or care providers about the deployment.

During Deployment

Typical Preschooler Behavior

  • Child will miss parent and be sad at their absence.
  • Will question the absence of parent; may believe that they caused their parent to leave.
  • May display separation anxiety by "clinging" to the remaining at-home parent.
  • React poorly to changes in their daily routine.
  • Use pretend play to "act out" their fears and feelings.

Parenting Ideas

  • Reassure your child regularly by giving extra physical attention (i.e., hugs, cuddling, reading a book, playing before bed, etc.).
  • Stay consistent with discipline.
  • Speak about and look at pictures of the deployed parent often.
  • Let child play out fears, but offer positive solutions.
  • As the at-home caregiver don't be afraid to reach out to family, friends, or your community to ask for help.
  • As the deployed parent, send silly drawings or cards.

After Deployment

Typical Preschooler Behavior

  • Child will be excited about parent's return; however they may be shy or reluctant toward the returning parent.
  • Will seek to be the center of attention and may act out to get attention.
  • Increase in frustration and tantrums as react to all the changes.

Parenting Ideas

  • Be patient; give your child time to "warm up" to you.
  • Bring along a cuddly toy to use as an "ice breaker" during the homecoming ceremony.
  • Don't try to immediately resume a disciplinary role, focus on getting reacquainted with your child by playing, talking and getting to know the "new" routine.
  • Praise and reinforce child's growing independence.

Red Flags for Possible Concern

Preschooler Behavior of Concern

  • Significant or prolonged changes in child's behavior, such as clinginess, ability to calm, etc.
  • Considerable changes in sleeping or eating patterns.
  • Significant developmental delays or losing skills previously mastered.
  • High levels of aggression.

Parenting Ideas

  • Seek help from a trusted friend, your family or community resource.
  • Talk to your child's doctor.
  • Schedule a behavioral health appointment for your child.
  • Seek help immediately (call 911) with any life-threatening concerns.