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Staying Healthy: Helping Staff Meet Children's Mental Health Needs

It is important that you and staff members take a holistic approach to health. Mental health is an important component of overall well-being. This lesson will help you teach, model, and observe practices that support the mental health of children and families during times of stress, such as deployment.

  • Describe the various effects of deployment on children and families.
  • Describe strategies you can use to support staff before, during, and after families face deployment.
  • Provide support and resources to families related to mental health and well-being.



Children experience a range of emotions, and those emotions are amplified when a family experiences a major change like deployment, death, divorce, separation, relocation, or job loss. You and your staff will likely work with children whose families experience these types of stressful events. These events mark an important time in the life of a child and their family. Each family handles stress differently, and each child will have unique needs. Nevertheless, you can use specific strategies to help staff members support children. It is your job to make sure staff members are competent and confident in their ability to support the mental health of children and youth.

First, you can introduce staff members to the Strengthening Families Protective Factors Framework. This framework is designed to prevent child abuse and neglect, but it is also an excellent way to approach your work with all families. When we strengthen families, we support the mental health of children. This framework focuses on strengths and promotes overall well-being. While it is beyond the scope of this lesson to completely explain the Protective Factors framework, but you can learn more by visiting For now, you can teach staff that there are five protective factors that they can help support in all families:

Strengthening Families Protective Factors
By the Center for the Study of Social Policy(Figure 1)

  1. Parental Resilience

    Families are able to manage stress and bounce back from challenges.

  2. Knowledge of Child Development and Parenting

    Adults know what to expect as children grow and are able to meet their child’s needs at each stage of development.

  3. Social Connections

    Families know there are people who care about them and who they can call on for help.

  4. Concrete Supports in Times of Need

    Families can get the help they need when crises strike: food and shelter, medical and mental health services, social, legal, and educational resources.

  5. Social and Emotional Competence of Children

    Social and emotional development promotes healthy relationships with others. Children with strong relationships, who can regulate their own behavior, express their emotions, and relate to others, are at lower risk of maltreatment.

You can learn more about the Protective Factors Framework by visiting

For the purposes of this lesson, we will focus on resilience. This is the ability to manage stress and bounce back from challenges. It is important for adults and children alike. Dr. Kenneth Ginsberg has written extensively about how to develop and model resiliency to support military youth. Watch this video about his discussion of the "7 C's" that help children positively cope with the challenges of military life: You can also read more about the "7 C's" for building resiliency in the Learn resource below, from the International Youth Foundation's, The 7 Cs: The Essential Building Blocks of Resilience.

Remember, all families face a variety of stressors and challenges. For military families, deployment is a very real stressor and one that continues to impact families long after the deployment has ended and the service member has returned home. Make sure staff members understand that deployment is a multi-stage process. Help them understand the different emotions families might go through before, during, and after deployment.

Seven-Stage Cycle

  • Stage 1 — Anticipation of Departure
  • Stage 2 — Detachment and Withdrawal
  • Stage 3 — Emotional Disorganization
  • Stage 4 — Recovery and Stabilization
  • Stage 5 — Anticipation of Return
  • Stage 6 — Return Adjustment and Renegotiation
  • Stage 7 — Reintegration and Stabilization

Figure 1. Emotional Cycles of Deployment. Adapted from Morse (n.d.) and Pincus, House, Christenson, & Adler (2001).

Connect staff members with the resources they need to do their jobs. After staff or family child care providers complete the Healthy Environments course, follow up to make sure they can identify ways to support families before, during, and after deployment. Keep in mind that all families can be similarly affected by circumstances very much like deployment, such as: divorce, death or loss of a family member, relocation, incarceration, extended illness, job loss or unemployment, drug addiction, etc. Families facing these types of challenges may experience stages similar to the emotional cycles of deployment noted above. Help staff members understand that it is OK to ask for help.


As a coach or trainer, you need to stay connected to the mental health needs of the children and families in your program. Make sure you know which families are experiencing deployments, divorce, relocation, grief, job loss, moving houses, adding a new family member or any other major change. Create opportunities for these families to connect with one another informally or through support networks on or near your installation. Also keep in mind that many of your staff members may experience similar life events. Listen to their concerns and help them find proactive ways to handle their stress.

Model a compassionate, problem-solving approach. Let staff members know that you are there to listen any time they need to talk. And make yourself available to families. Although they will probably build the strongest relationships with the staff members who work directly with their children, you can also be a strong supportive resource for families. Advocate for initiatives that will help your program support children, families, and staff through difficult times. For example, watch this video demonstrating how one program helps bridge the distance between deployed service members and their children.

Connecting During Deployment

This video gives an example of how one program supports families and children with deployment.


Caring for children and families experiencing extreme stress can be challenging for even the most seasoned staff member. Watch for signs that a staff member is overwhelmed or experiencing stress themselves. Be prepared to step in and offer support. Read these scenarios on the left and think about how you would respond.

ScenarioYou might say…

LaShorage's husband is on his first deployment. She cries every time she thinks about it. She is just not ready to talk to the kids in her class about her emotions and deployment experiences. Her feelings are too raw.

"LaShorage, I know you're hurting right now. I'm here to talk any time you need me. Let's take it slow. It might help to remember the kids in your class have these same feelings. You can help each other learn to talk about it …"

Stefan was raised to believe that "boys don't cry." He was taught that it was a sign of weakness to talk about how he was feeling. He tries to understand your staff development events about mental health, but he really thinks it's best not to talk about things that are difficult or emotional. He thinks everyone would feel better if they just kept busy.

"Stefan, I can see that you have done a lot of thinking about all of this and you care so much about the kids. We both know that everybody processes things differently. Let's talk about a few specific kids who I think might really need to talk …"

Stacey has been a military wife and mother for 20 years. She has been through it all. She can comfort kids, co-workers, moms, and dads. In fact, she has a reputation for being a great person to talk to. People seek her out even after their child leaves your program. She always has a hug for everyone and makes each person feel like they are the only person in the room.

"Stacey, can you share some of your experiences and approaches with the other teachers? I think we can all learn from you and the way you connect."

You should also look for signs that staff members are experiencing stress. Watch this video to learn more about the signs of stress in caregivers:

Signs of Stress in Staff Members

Learn the signs of stress so you can support all staff members.

If you see any of these signs, recognize that a staff member might need extra support from you. Find time to talk and plan opportunities to relieve stress. Make sure the staff member takes breaks as needed and has the supports they need outside of work.

When a staff member is ready, use the Mental Health Best Practices Checklist in the Apply section to observe these competencies in staff and family child care providers. Provide feedback about what you see, and be prepared to support staff members and family child care providers as they meet the mental health needs of children and families.


It is important that you are familiar with resources related to children’s mental health—particularly those related to deployment. Take some time to explore the resources below. Use the Mental Health Resource Sheet and write down the resources you find. Use the two-page Supporting Children Who Are Experiencing Stress from Child Care Aware to better support staff who work with children experiencing anxiety. 

Think about ways you can share these resources with staff. You can also consider how these resources could be used to support children in families experiencing other kinds of separation such as long-term illness, incarceration, or frequent travel.


It is important to continuously observe staff members’ performance and provide feedback on what you see. Use the Mental Health Best Practices Checklist as a focused observation tool to support staff that have completed the Healthy Environments course but may need additional support or follow up on supporting children and families experiencing stress. This checklist provides an easy way to follow up on goals set around this topic and provides specific feedback to staff members about what you observed. 

The death of a parent is perhaps the most emotionally challenging event that can happen to a child. Use these resources below to better help staff support the mental health of children and youth as they process their grief. 



The relocation of forces or materials to desired operational areas. Military family members may be relocated to war zones or other areas as needed
Fleet and Family Service:
A Navy program which supports individual and family readiness
The Military Family Life Consultant program helps families get the support they need


Finish this statement: Parental resilience, knowledge of child development and parenting, social connections, concrete supports in times of need, and social and emotional competence of children are…
Tim is a staff member in your school-age program. His wife is about to go on her first deployment overseas. He does not appear to be handling the stress well. What can you do?
Your community is celebrating the return of a large group of service members from a lengthy deployment. Which of the following is not something your program can do to support the children and families?
References & Resources

Beardslee, W. R., Avery, M. W., Ayoub, C. C., & Watts, C. L., (2008). Family Connections Project at Children’s Hospital Boston. Fostering Resilience in Families Coping with Depression: Practical Ways Head Start staff Can Help Families Build on Their Power to Cope.

Center for the Study of Social Policy. (2018). Strengthening Families Protective Factors Framework. Resources at

Gewirtz, A. H., & In Youssef, A. M. (2016). Parenting and children's resilience in military families. Switzerland: Springer International Publishing. 

Ginsburg, K., & Jarlow, M. M. (2014). Building resilience in children and teens: Giving kids roots and wings (3rd edition). American Academy of Pediatrics. More information available at:

Huebner C.R. (2019). Health and Mental Health Needs of Children in US Military Families. AAP Section on Uniformed Services, AAP Committee on Psychosocial Aspects Of Child And Family Health. Pediatrics. 143(1).

Morse, M. D. (n.d.). A Closer Look for Current Conditions: A Fresh Glance at the Emotional Cycles of Deployment.

Pincus, S. H., House, R., Christenson, J., & Adler, L. E. (2001). The Emotional Cycles of Deployment: A Military Family Perspective.

Sesame Workshop. (n.d.).

ZERO TO THREE: National Center for Infants, Toddlers and Families. (n.d.). Coming Together Around Military Families (CTAMF ).