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Minnesota National Guard
Study hopes to help Soldiers get back to jobs as parents (audio)

by Jessica Mador, Minnesota Public Radio
April 29, 2011

St Paul, Minn - As 2,400 soldiers from the Minnesota Army National Guard prepare to deploy to Kuwait next month, University of Minnesota researchers will be keeping an eye on their families

They're hoping these soldiers can help them understand the toll that combat deployment takes on parents Studies have shown that deployment stress affects parenting and may result in behavior and emotional problems in children The goal of the study is to help Guard families with school-age kids weather deployment

arger view
Dr Abi Gewirtz, left, and Margaret Lathrop lead a role-playing exercise during a training workshop at the St Paul campus of the University of Minnesota in St Paul, Minn Tuesday, April 12, 2011 The workshop, co-led by Gewirtz and Lathrop, was part of the After Deployment: Adaptive Parenting Tools training, which provides information and techniques for parents to help cope with issues related to military deployment (MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson)

Workshops intend to train participants to eventually facilitate their own groups of National Guard families

On the St Paul campus of the University of Minnesota, half a dozen National Guard soldiers or spouses sit in a circle They are taking part in a workshop intend to train participants to eventually facilitate their own groups of National Guard families

"Hi, dad," said one woman, playing his daughter

"Dad" responded "Hey, Hannah Why don't you take a seat? I just got a call from your teacher"

The teacher called "dad" to say his "daughter" may have been involved in a dangerous classroom prank

"Dad" angrily peppered his "daughter" with questions and accusations of guilt It doesn't take long for the conversation to dissolve into raised voices and tears

"This is not about me, Hannah! It's about the fire you started You could have burned the school down!" dad said, as his "daughter" cried

The scene ended with the group laughing

Afterwards, it discussed what worked and what didn't They agreed that finding ways to avoid reacting out of anger could help de-escalate conflicts like these

The parenting techniques they were learning are from a program called "After Deployment, Adaptive Parenting Tools/ADAPT" They are based on an existing program developed in Oregon, called the Oregon Parent Management Training

The program has proven successful in strengthening parenting skills and reducing depression, substance abuse and criminal behavior Children who participated showed fewer behavior and emotional problems years after their parents participated in the program

Principal investigator Abi Gewirtz is adapting the program to the specific needs of military families

"It's a parenting intervention that has been shown to be very, very effective at supporting parenting in other contexts, so our test is to see whether it works at promoting children's resilience in this context," Gewirtz said

The University of Minnesota study is the first of its kind to focus on parenting in Guard families with soldiers who've served in Iraq and Afghanistan The $32 million five-year study is funded by the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute on Drug Abuse

Over the next few years, researchers will recruit 400 families with kids between the ages of five and 12 Some will learn the new parenting techniques The rest will get resources normally offered to military parents seeking help

Researchers will follow the families over time to test the program's effectiveness

Gewirtz said the goal of the study is to help people parent effectively despite the difficulties of deployment

"The effects of deployment on kids are not just about combat stress symptoms that the soldier might be experiencing, but they are about the fact that the parent was gone for a year in the child's life"

Parenting can suffer when parents feel stressed, and that affects children And because research shows that the period when soldiers return from combat is often the most stressful time for military families, Gewirtz said that's when families will be enrolled in the study

Back at the workshop, 27-year old National Guard soldier Thad Shunkwiler from Mankato said that, while every parent experiences stress, military parents face additional challenges when it comes to dealing with their children's emotions He said they have been trained to not let emotions interfere with action under pressure It's a hard habit to break at home

"All of your training in the military is to react -- react, react, react, react, react -- not respond, not think about it -- it's to react," Shunkwiler said

The study aims to help military parents deal with this contradiction

Researchers say the first 100 families will be recruited by summer If the study is successful, they hope to expand the program to other military families in Minnesota and across the country

More from MPR
Military family prepares for husband's deployment
April 15, 2011

Mom, three boys, a dog and a cat all feel the same - they miss a deployed dad
April 15, 2011

Deployment uncertain, couple plan dream wedding in days
April 4, 2011

Minn National Guard deploying 22 soldiers to Afghanistan
March 31, 2011

Minnesota National Guard officials confront mental health stigma ahead of deployment
March 9, 2011

New veterans court aims to help soldiers struggling at home
March 22, 2010

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