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Parenting the PTSD Child

written by: Debbie Roome • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 4/13/2011

Traumatic events can trigger PTSD in children just as they can in adults. Read on for tips and advice on how parents can help children overcome the problems of PTSD.

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    The Challenges of Parenting the PTSD Child

    Post traumatic stress disorder affects individuals in different ways and there are certain problems that are more commonly seen in children. Parenting the PTSD child can present the following challenges:

    • The child may lose interest in socializing with friends. Instead they lock themselves in their rooms and play computer games or similar.
    • Overreaction to noises or events similar to the original trauma are common and parents may feel at a loss as to how to comfort the child.
    • Problems at school may arise with poor concentration and lowered grades. Attempts to encourage them to do better seem to fall on deaf ears.
    • Some children may develop an obsession with safety and death which parents are unable to relieve.
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    Tips and Advice for Parenting the PTSD Child

    Children of all ages are susceptible to PTSD. The trauma may be caused by the death of a parent, sibling or other loved one or it can be the result of a natural disaster such as an earthquake or flood. In other cases a car accident or injury may cause PTSD. Here are some useful tips for parents whose children are suffering from PTSD:

    • Children are often unaware of PTSD as a condition and struggle with their fears and feelings. Parents can explain to them what is happening and strong support from family members can make a big difference.
    • Parents can look for signs of PTSD in their children. These include changes in behavior patterns and recreating the trauma using their toys.
    • Separation fear is a common result of PTSD in children. In the early months after a trauma, a child can gain much comfort by being close to a parent.
    • A child may regress in certain areas such as toileting, language and dressing.
    • Sleep problems and nightmares are common. A night light can be of some comfort along with reassurance from a parent.
    • Statistics on PTSD in children indicate that 75% of those who witness a school shooting will develop the condition. 60% of sexually abused children and 40% of abused children will also develop PTSD.
    • Family therapy is a good option for teenagers but younger children may benefit more from art or play therapy. Young children often lack the vocabulary to express their fears and hurts, and expressing their feelings through guided play can be very helpful.
    • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can work with children from the age of about three. Therapists often include parents in the sessions as they are crucial for the child’s healing.
    • CBT can help children balance their feelings and stop expecting the worst all the time. It can also empower them to feel strong and capable and helps them set aside any misplaced guilt they may be feeling.
    • Medication is generally not advised for children with PTSD unless their symptoms are severe. If in doubt, seek a second opinion before starting a child on any type of drugs.
    • It is important for parents to be in agreement about the course of treatment and support for their child.
    • Parents may experience a range of emotions prompted by their child’s trauma. These include guilt, anger and grief. It is important to seek help if these feelings get in the way of helping the child to recovery.
    • Actively build security in a child’s life by maintaining contact with their friends, setting up routines and creating a relaxed feeling in the home.

    Parenting the PTSD child is difficult and sometimes parents seem to suffer as much as their children. As they offer continued support and arrange appropriate treatment, the child can go on to make a full recovery.

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    References

    Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder for Dummies, Mark Goulston, Wiley Publishing 2008

    http://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/pages/ptsd-children-adolescents.asp