The Effects of PTSD on Kids
by Guest Blogger Adrienne May
While deployed, our service members often see and experience things that no one should have to. They are put in extremely dangerous situations, and they have to deal with those experiences long after they’ve left the danger zone.
What a lot of people don’t realize, though, is that their families have to deal with this too. Their kids are especially susceptive to the ups, and mostly downs, of their parents’ PTSD. The impact that PTSD has on kids is more substantial than you might think. Luckily, there is promising new PTSD treatment that could help aid symptoms.
For those kids whose parents are deployed for long periods of time, they’re already having a tough time because of the absence of a parent. After the parent returns home, reassimilation can be difficult, especially if the parent had to go through a traumatizing experience. The parent will be trying to cope with themselves and their thoughts, and this can leave less room for the kids.
One of the most prominent symptoms of PTSD is reliving experiences over and over. So while the parent is reliving and trying to deal with these images and thoughts, the children can feel alone, unloved, and like it’s their fault the parent is like this.
Being numb is the easiest way to deal (or avoid dealing) with PTSD. However, if a veteran numbs themselves completely, they can’t think beyond their dazed world. If they aren’t completely numb, or numb at all, they can also experience severe mood swings, fits of anger, paranoia, and depression.
Studies have shown that children of veterans with PTSD are more likely to have social, behavioral and academic problems than non-PTSD veterans’ children. A rough home life leaves kids ill-equipped to deal with different social structures they are exposed to throughout school and life.
Behavioral problems manifest when kids are tasked with too much responsibility, aren’t given enough attention, and other causes. These kids have problems making friends and developing healthy relationships outside of their family, and tend to be aggressive, anxious, and depressed.
Academic issues also arise, as these kids can have trouble concentrating, paying attention, and mastering the material. Homework is also less likely to be completed and correct without parents’ guidance of developing children.
All in all, children of veterans with PTSD have poorly developed behavioral, academic, and interpersonal skills. But there’s also an effect that isn’t widely anticipated: these kids can develop PTSD of their own.
Called secondary traumatization, PTSD can occur in children of adults with PTSD. They can develop their own symptoms, including depression, inability to cope with everyday life, numbness, and isolation.
What You Can Do
Luckily, this isn’t how things have to be. If you know someone who has PTSD and kids, you may be able to help their kids through this very emotionally trying time. Here are some things you can do to help:
- Be honest. Let them know that there is a problem. Too often adults just say ‘nothing’s wrong,’ when it clearly is. Denial isn’t helping anyone. By letting them know there is a problem, you are giving them the tools to help them navigate the problem and come out triumphant. If you ignore the issue, you are depriving them of this.
- Tell them they are not to blame. They need to hear this clearly, concisely, and often. Reassurance that even though there is a problem, the fact that they are not the cause can help immeasurably.
- Let them know that their parent(s) love them. This can easily be questioned with the erratic behavior and withdrawal of the parents. Assure them that their parent is going through something immense, but that doesn’t take away their love one bit.
- Make sure they know they are not alone. They need a support system, even if that’s group therapy with peers, or the family coming together to help. They need to feel like they can turn to someone for help, as opposed to bearing the brunt of this alone.
- They need to be kids sometimes. Kids of parents with PTSD can be saddled with huge responsibilities and they need to be able to let those go for a bit and just be kids. This can lower stress and help them cope better.
- By making sure they know they have people behind them, helping them fight, and having a support system can help them live as normal lives as they can in the face of adversity. They will also learn perseverance and the value of willpower. If they are successful, they will gain skills that not many people have, and that will benefit them for life.
Adrienne May is a military spouse, a mother of three and is the featured author for the Military Spouse Central blog with an active social network of over 100,000 military spouses and family members. Follow her on Google+ or tweet her at @AdrienneMay. Photo courtesy of Military Spouse Central.