How can military families cope with the stress of deployment and reintegration? That’s the subject of a new research project—the first of its kind nationally—being conducted at the University of Minnesota’s CEHD with the support of the Minnesota National Guard and Reserves. Project ADAPT (After Deployment: Adaptive Parenting Tools) strives to learn about family resilience when dealing with deployment of one or both parents, and to provide a practical method for improving parenting skills during a stressful, difficult period.
Project ADAPT is supported by the National Institute of Health (NIH) and in part by the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN). Past research has focused mostly on soldiers, and less on how the stress on soldiers affects their families. Project ADAPT will study 400 families over five years to see whether the parenting techniques they learn will affect such things as children’s adjustment. We seek to support the larger military community by providing research-based workshops on parenting and deployment, newsletters and parenting groups to offer military families effective tools to deal with stress related to deployment and reintegration.
Resources to Help Military Families Cope with Stress
All families deal with stress as a normal part of day-to-day life, but when a parent is deployed for months or a year at a time, the stress can be tough on families. And when parents get stressed, conflicts within the home can easily escalate. Through Project ADAPT, we offer military families parenting tools and techniques to respond more effectively to the emotions that stress generates.
Project ADAPT uses a well-established model for effective positive parenting—Parent Management Training-Oregon Model (PMTO)—a program designed by World War II veteran Dr. Gerald Patterson. PMTO is based on over 30 years of family research, helping parents use five core parenting skills. We’ve applied this program to the special demands faced by military families to offer simple tools that gently guide parenting practices.
For instance, the effects of combat stress can include triggers – reminders of combat operations that can return reintegrating soldiers to their difficult memories of the war zone. It’s natural for people to avoid these difficult memories by distracting themselves – immersing themselves in activities that let them “zone out” at home, for example. The problem is that “zoning out” is incompatible with actively parenting. So, we teach parents skills to support them to respond to difficult emotions in family situations in order for them to be their children’s best teachers.
This summer we’ll do our first follow-ups with families that we first met with last summer! With this first-of-its-kind program, Minnesota has the opportunity to share incredible knowledge that will help the next generation of military, and especially National Guard and Reserve, families
Next week we’ll highlight some of our favorite resources for military families, and some simple strategies for families from Project ADAPT.
-Abi Gewirtz, Project Lead, Department of Family Social Science, CEHD