Pilka & Associates, P.A.
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"The Things They Carried": Lessening the impact of PTSD on children

Although our country's military commitments to the Middle East have wound down, the impact of these war-time engagements continues to reverberate in households across Central Florida. While a deployment in Iraq or Afghanistan may be over, the memories of events on the front lines may still remain, impacting your home dynamic. If you or your spouse is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), your home dynamic could include not only your relationship with your spouse or partner, but also your relationship with your children. They may not have shared your experiences, but children are attuned to their parents' emotions and may be mirroring aspects of PTSD.

Depending on the age of your children, they may respond to PTSD in several ways. It is possible that your child may mimic the actions of the veteran at home, using her actions as a means to connect with a parent. Other children attempt to take on the responsibilities temporarily vacated by the veteran parent, relinquishing childlike attributes in order to act in a more mature manner. When confronted with an upsetting scenario, your child may simply bury his emotions, internalizing concerns that may be revealed at a later time.

If any of these scenarios parallel developments you have observed at home, please remember that the circumstances that exist in your home are not permanent. There are many ways to resolve these issues.

What you can do to help your children

1. Communicate

Regardless of what has happened in the past, remember that your children love you and they want what is best for you. They need to feel safe and want to know that you are safe too. It's important to create an environment where they feel secure talking to you about things that confuse or concern them. Please do your best to keep the channels of communication open so that they know their feelings will be validated.

2. Acknowledge that your family has changed

After the emotional upswing of your veteran's homecoming, your child may notice that her parent currently does not act as the veteran did before deployment. While it isn't necessary to provide all of the details of an overseas operation, you should explain the reason for the personality alteration in terms your child can understand. So many children believe they are responsible for good and bad things that occur. It's important to convey to your child that she is not responsible for his parent's PTSD.

3. Seek out counseling

Sometimes it's difficult to access the vocabulary or adapt the coping mechanisms appropriate to aiding children. There is no shame in asking for help from a therapist or one with an educational background to handle childhood stressors. In many cases, receiving help from someone outside the family can be best because a therapist can provide an objective perspective. If cost is a concern, you should consider contacting churches or nonprofit organizations because they often hold group meetings for veterans and their families.

Being a parent is hard. Being a parent suffering from PTSD is even more difficult. You served your country during a time of need. You can now serve your children during their time of need.

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