PTSD and Your Children on the News

Brain Injury Blog 

PTSD and Your Children on the News – What’s the real story here?

by Marilyn Lash

As troops are returning home from deployments in Iraq, a regular feature on the evening news has become reunions with spouses, parents, and children. Because I live in North Carolina where there are multiple bases, I see this at least once a week – finally, some joy on the evening news in between the latest disaster, political campaign, or financial report. Especially touching are the reunions when a parent – still in camouflage uniforms – appears at school to surprise a child who has not seen mom or dad for many, many months or more than a year. It is impossible not to smile, and I admit to tearing up occasionally, at the incredible joy of this “parent and child reunion” to borrow a phrase from a Paul Simon song.

But I must admit that I often think of a comment made to me many years ago by a parent whose daughter nearly drowned. I remember her saying, “The reporters and news stations were all here when they rescued Sarah from the water and when they got her breathing again – and her survival was called a miracle when she finally regained consciousness.” But this same parent later asked the question of where is the news story and the interest in her daughter as she lives with the challenges of a severe brain injury that has changed her life – and that of everyone in her family as well. The news cycle stops too soon in our wish for a happy ending that “wraps up” the story.

So I think of the excitement of the service member’s child when mommy or daddy comes home and then I ask a similar question of, “What happens next?” We know that PTSD is the most common mental health diagnosis, followed by depression, among veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. We don’t see the follow-up story on the news when the child can’t understand why daddy won’t take her to the new Muppets movie because sitting in a darkened crowded movie theater triggers memories of nighttime expeditions in Baghdad. Another child is upset because daddy is short tempered at home and yells more than he used to because his nightmares and flashbacks constantly interrupt his sleep. Still another child is just getting to know this “new” parent who has come home because she was just a newborn when mom or dad deployed.

Post traumatic stress disorder, commonly called PTSD, can have a ripple effect on everyone in the family. It’s important to help children of all ages understand it’s not their fault and that their parent still loves them. You can help your children by:

  • Teaching them about the symptoms of PTSD.
  • Reminding them that mom or dad is trying to adjust to life back home.
  • Explaining that PTSD is caused by a traumatic event, not by something they did.
  • Be honest but cautious with details of the traumatic event(s) that caused the parent’s PTSD.

We would welcome ideas from our blog visitors on their experiences and how they helped their children understand the symptoms and effects of PTSD.

Helpful Resources:

Marilyn Lash and Janelle Breese Biagioni have a helpful tip card on PTSD and Parenting: Helping your children. There is also more detail in the book by the same authors titled Explaining Brain Injury, Blast Injury and PTSD to Children and Teens. 

December 15, 2011

One response to “PTSD and Your Children on the News”

  1. Thanks for sharing information with me, I will return every day to read more.

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