WEDNESDAY, March 12, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Fathers returning home after military service can have difficulty reconnecting with their young children, a small new study suggests.
It included 14 American fathers who were returning from combat deployment and had children aged 6 and younger. Most of the fathers belonged to the Michigan Army National Guard.
The fathers were glad to be back with their families, but reported significant stress in areas such as getting to know their children again, co-parenting and adapting to family life. In some cases, children didn't recognize their fathers.
"A service member who deploys when his child is an infant and returns home when the child is a toddler may find an entirely different child," study author Tova Walsh, at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, said in a university news release.
"Under these circumstances, fathers find that it takes substantial effort to rebuild their relationship with their child," she added.
Half of the fathers had post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and several said it was difficult for them to stay calm when their young children acted up, or that their children's behavior caused them stress.
All of the fathers said they wanted to improve their parenting skills and learn how to better express their emotions and control their tempers, according to the study published recently in a special issue of the journal Health & Social Work that focused on the needs of military families.
"The results show that we need to support military families during reintegration," Walsh said. "Military fathers are receptive to information and support that will help them understand and respond to their children's age-typical responses to separation and reunion. They all hope to renew their relationships with their young children."
About 37 percent of the 2 million children of U.S. military personnel are under age 6, the researchers noted.
The U.S. Department of Defense has information for military families.