Explaining PTSD to your child

Posted by

Reoccurring and distressing memories, flashbacks, nightmares, avoiding specific places or activities, feeling hopeless, memory loss, feeling detached from family or friends, always being on guard, trouble sleeping, and irritability are only a few of the extensive list of symptoms individuals with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) face on a daily basis. PTSD is an extremely controlling mental health condition that affects roughly 3.5% of people in the United States alone and is triggered by experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. Although it is not talked about often, it is something that can also leave long-lasting effects on those around the individual with PTSD. This article will specifically relate to how children of those with PTSD need to be taught what it means and what it can look like.

Children are very observant and are typically able to sense when someone in their family is not okay. Since they may not understand what is going on, it can scare them, or they can even blame themselves.  According to the Veteran’s Affairs, if you are considering talking to your child about your PTSD, preparing yourself and what you are going to say is a great way to start. Start by writing down what you would like to cover. How much detail and whatever you leave out is at your own discretion. Be sure to encourage the child to ask questions and share their feelings while you discuss as this can help them handle what you are explaining much easier.

Planning the discussion will also benefit you and your child. Make sure they are not too tired, sick, grumpy, or having a bad day as the conversation could end abruptly, or they may have a more difficult time accepting what they are being told. If you are feeling nervous, try practicing talking in the mirror or record yourself and play it back. The more comfortable you are while talking about it, the more comfortable they will be. This conversation probably won’t be a onetime experience either. Be sure you are prepared to be asked questions and to explain things over again. It may take time, but children will become more accepting and willing to show more empathy, the better they understand what is happening.

If you are feeling uncomfortable bringing up the topic or are unsure how to start, there are various children’s books revolving around PTSD. Why Is Dad So Mad? is a book written by an Army veteran for his daughter to help her understand what battles he has every day. The Huge Bag of Worries by Virginia Ironside, Why Are You So Scared? By Beth Andrews, and Daddy’s Home by Carolina Nadel are three other children’s books that explain PTSD.

Opening this discussion can be extremely helpful for your children to understand the PTSD symptoms they may be witnessing. For more information, tips, and tricks, visit our website.

Written By: Kelly McCasland, Family Life Intern, Human Services Program Administration, Eastern Illinois University