Signs Your Military Kid May Need Counseling

Posted in: Stories

by Sarah Olsen

Every child is different and likewise, their personalities respond differently to external circumstances. When a parent is deployed, or when your family moves often, it can take a toll on children that you may not see. When I was younger, I showed many signs that I was struggling. But unless you knew the signs, you didn’t see it. 

I would have benefitted from personal one-on-one counseling in middle school and high school. My middle school set students aside during one lunch a week or month to meet with someone to discuss how our parent’s deployments are affecting us. But as a shy tween, I didn’t think it was affecting me. At least, not in significant ways.

Here is a list of signs you may see in your child that suggests they may benefit from seeing a pediatric psychologist:


They are withdrawn

Please don’t assume it’s simply a personality trait. I was a withdrawn child. While I was shy, I was insecure, afraid, and self-conscious of being the new girl every move. It made making friends a slow and difficult process. In high school, no one knew my dad was deployed. I didn’t want to talk about it. 

Being withdrawn isn’t a red flag per se, but if you notice that your usually outgoing child becomes withdrawn, they would clearly benefit from someone who is willing to listen to their feelings and is not their parent. It may take some probing to receive a response. If you are in a season of moving or your spouse is deployed, this is an especially difficult time for your child. They are not as strong as you may think.

Questions to consider asking your child:

“I’ve noticed you seem quieter. Are you struggling with the deployment/move/etc.?”

“How are you managing with your parent/guardian’s deployment? Is there something you want to talk about?”


Their grades are falling

If your kids or teens have had a pattern of good grades but then have sudden dips in their grades, it is likely that they are too worried to study, too withdrawn to pay attention in school, or have become depressed.

This is a telltale sign that something in your child is off. It may be a difference that is happening in the home. 

While my dad was deployed, I suddenly didn’t have someone to teach me math as well. My mom asked her friend if her husband would be willing to tutor me in math. It was the only way I could pass. 

Questions to consider asking your child:

“How are you doing in school?”

“How did you do on your exam? Don’t worry, if you didn’t do well, I won’t get mad. I’d just like to see how you’re doing.”

“When is your next test or exam?”

“Can I help you study with note cards or quiz you using your notes?”


They are acting out in school

Acting out in school can take on the form of physical or verbal fights, being quickly irritated with other students or teachers, putting their heads down on desks during class, or trashing bathrooms and vandalizing property. 

To know if your child is doing one of these things, you can contact their teachers or simply ask your child directly:

“When you’re at school, do you find yourself putting your head down on your desk during class, not because you’re tired but because you’re not interested in the class? I’m not asking to condemn you. I’m just curious.”

“When you’re at school, are you tempted to write on bathroom stall walls? I’m not asking to condemn you. I’m just curious.”

“While you’re at school, do you get short with other students or even teachers when something bothers you? I’m not asking to condemn you, because I have been getting short with others too while mom/dad is away.”


They complain of nightmares

Young children in particular do not have the vocabulary or knowledge to explain why they’re feeling what they’re feeling. They may simply tell you, “I’m having nightmares of mommy/daddy,” or “I can’t sleep since mom/dad left,” or “I’m having nightmares of my new school.”

This is normal; do not be afraid. Perhaps let them sleep in your bed with you. But if the nightmares persist, your child may benefit from seeing a therapist for their increased anxiety. 

Questions to consider asking your child:

“Are you sleeping well throughout the night? Do you remember having any weird dreams?”

“I’ve lately had dreams that reflect parent/guardian’s leaving. Have you experienced any dreams or nightmares about them too?”


They don’t talk of having friends

This is more of a concern for children in middle school and high school. If they are not making friends or wanting to hang out with people after moving or while a parent is deployed, this is a big flag that they are simply not interested or putting effort into friendships. This can be a sign of depression. 

You cannot force your child into making friends, but connecting them with a therapist allows them to process the transition and their feelings at school. It won’t resolve the issues right away, but it allows them some internal freedom to process their emotions and thoughts in a private space. 

Questions to consider asking your child:

How is (insert friend’s name here) doing?”

“Did you sit with (insert friend’s name here) at lunch today?”

“Have you made a new friend since we moved?”

“I’ve had a hard time making new friends here. Have you experienced this too?”

“Are you still in contact with your friends from (insert state or country here)?


God knows your child inside and out (Psalm 139). There are people in the Bible like David, who experienced excessive anxiety and even depression (Psalm 42). Counseling is not only a spiritual idea, but medically, it allows one to communicate their feelings with a safe person and over time, can grow self-esteem. Your child can share concerns, emotions and stresses that they may not tell you about. I certainly didn’t tell my parents everything that I told my therapist. 

The biggest way I dealt with my dad’s two six-month deployments was by swallowing the reality and becoming numb to it. I didn’t allow myself to miss him or even grieve because he was gone. It was a “way of life” it felt. Sadly, I should have been more concerned for his well-being.

The Lord has used counseling and medication in my life even when I didn’t think it was making a difference. However, it allowed me to learn why I was experiencing certain symptoms of anxiety and gave names to my struggles. I learned exercises to practice when my mind spiraled, and it allowed me to share concerning thoughts to someone who was not afraid of hearing them. 

You can find a therapist through your insurance’s website, or your hospital’s patient portal. Or, you could search local private therapists that are Christian. Therapy can be costly, but it is well worth it. 

I pray this list helps you connect with your child in a deeper way. 



Sarah Olsen grew up a military brat, moving every two to three years. This grew a love of travel and learning new cultures. When she’s not writing, she likes to watch movies, play board games with friends, or hike a new trail. She serves with Cru’s Jesus Film Project Ministry in the sunny state of Florida.