How to Help Children Who Feel Their Parents’ PTSD

When a parent is battling posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), there is a good chance it will have an effect on his or her children. There’s even a name for this: secondary trauma.

Just a cursory look at the range of symptoms that someone suffering with PTSD may exhibit makes it easy to understand how they can have an impact on those around them. Grouchiness, anger, failing to pay attention, lacking interest in activities that used to be fun…young minds can interpret these things as being about them.

Naturally, this is likely to cause a response in the children. For example, a child might begin to mirror his or her parent’s behavior in a bid to reconnect with them. He or she may attempt to take on the adult’s role to some extent, acting too grown-up for his or her age. And there can be emotional issues, problems at school, relationship troubles later in life, and other interpersonal issues.

Without a doubt, the most important thing a parent can do is talk to the children. Explain to them what’s going on, without going into detail about specific, traumatic events that led to the PTSD. Give them information appropriate for their age, and offer love and encouragement. If this is too difficult for the person with PTSD to do, then the other parent, or even an aunt or uncle or close friend, can step in and help.

Just remember that help is available and the challenges of PTSD, for both parents and children, can be treated with great success.

Adrian Zupp is the marketing and communications writer for Screening for Mental Health.