Five Ways to Help Your Child With Anxiety
How to Help Your Child Deal with Your PTSD
Post-traumatic stress disorder is a type of anxiety condition that arises after a person experiences a frightening or life-threatening event.Those who suffer from PTSD may find it challenging to cope in everyday life, but parents with the disorder have unique barriers to overcome. Although your family will surely be affected by your PTSD, you can minimize and prevent problems by understanding how your trauma affects your children, having an open discussion, and developing strategies to help your child cope.
Parenting with PTSD
Explain the condition to your child in easy-to-understand terms.Without an understanding of what you’re dealing with, your child may think the way you are acting is their fault. They may become scared and confused. While talking about PTSD won’t completely alleviate your child’s worries, it will open the door for you to discuss it more in the future.
- Depending on your child’s age, you will modify your message so that it fits their level of communication. You might say, “Daddy has something called PTSD. It’s a sickness that makes me have scary thoughts and nightmares. Sometimes, I might get really angry or get frightened easily.”
Encourage your child to ask questions and voice their needs.Let your child know that it’s okay for them to ask you any questions they may have about PTSD. Also, encourage them to come to you, or another trusted adult, if questions arise later. When they ask questions, do your best to answer them honestly without providing too many graphic details.
- For instance, you might say, “I want you to feel comfortable talking to me about this…Do you have any questions?” If they ask, “Why do you have PTSD?” you might answer, “I had a really serious accident that almost killed me. It was very scary and caused me to change how I react to stress. I am seeing a doctor to help me deal with it.”
Come up with a plan during crisis.Parenting with a mental disorder like PTSD can feel unpredictable and parents often feel helpless in the face of their conditions. You can empower yourself and your children by creating a crisis plan on a “good” day.It is also important to have a plan in place to care for your child if you need to be hospitalized.
- Explain to your children what signs to look for in an episode. For example, you might black out, cry hysterically, or punch a wall. Let them know whenever you do something that could be dangerous to them or yourself that they should follow a set protocol. Tell them to grab a cell phone and get somewhere safe like a tree house or neighbor’s house. Give them a number to a family member or friend to call for help, or even teach them how to call 911 if the child feels that they or you are in serious danger.
Help your child learn soothing or relaxation techniques.Children of parents with PTSD can actually take on some of the symptoms of trauma. To minimize the chances of your child becoming depressed or anxious, work with your doctor or a school counselor to teach them exercises to manage stress and anxiety. These techniques may be useful for you, your child, or anyone else in the household.
- A quick and easy relaxation technique to soothe anxiety is calm breathing. Have your child practice this by taking a slow breath in through the nose for about 4 counts. Then, have them hold the breath for 1 or 2 counts. Exhale through the mouth for 4 counts. Wait a few seconds and then repeat for 5 to 10 breaths or until they start to feel calm.
- Other helpful soothing techniques that your child can learn include guided imagery or visualization and progressive muscle relaxation.
Show affection when you can.Because you are likely detached and guarded due to your illness, your child may not receive adequate attention and affection needed to develop a strong bond and healthy attachment.Whenever you are feeling up to it, be sure to offer your child physical touch in the form of hugs, kisses, and caresses.
- This helps your child feel loved and helps the two of you form a positive bond. Also, on good days, try to engage in activities with your child that you both enjoy.
Surround your child with other supportive adults.Coping with a serious mental illness such as PTSD will likely include you being in bed on bad days or even hospitalized on the worse days. Ensure that your child has additional relationships in your family and the local community to stand in when you are unwell.
- Call on friends, family members, teachers, coaches, and school counselors. Your goal is not to get your child any special attention, but to inform adults who need to know so that they may offer support or check in as needed.
- In some cases, when your presence places your children in danger, it may be necessary to put your children in the temporary care of a close family member while you get the treatment you need.
Go to family therapy.Participating in some form of mental health treatment is vital to your child’s development and well-being. Because PTSD affects the whole family, everyone needs to be involved in treatment in order to reap the benefits.
- Family therapy may include helping you better learn how to cope with treatment and helping any children or other household members get the care they need.
Make your treatment a priority.In addition to involving your family in treatment, you should first seek treatment as an individual to deal with the traumatic memories associated with PTSD. The best way you can help your children is by helping yourself and continuing your treatment as advised by your healthcare provider.
- Typical treatment for PTSD involves a combined approach of participating in psychotherapy and taking medications for anxiety or depression. In addition, doctors often suggest that PTSD-sufferers make lifestyle changes such as exercising, practicing good sleep hygiene, getting social support and setting positive personal goals.
Understanding PTSD’s Effect on Children
Know that your child has a higher risk of mental illness.Due to your diagnosis, your child has an increased risk of suffering from PTSD-related conditions like anxiety and depression. This can occur during childhood and adolescence and extend into adulthood.Children of parents with PTSD may also develop symptoms to the disorder themselves in a condition known as secondary traumatization.
- By participating in individual treatment for your own symptoms and having your children take part in family therapy (or individual therapy of their own), you can minimize the long-term consequences your PTSD has on your children.
Consider how your PTSD may lead to behavioral problems in children.Because your children may not have formed healthy attachments with you due to your illness, they may demonstrate acting-out behaviors at home and at school. These may include anger, aggressive behavior, talking back, or other forms of negative attention-seeking. Talk to your child's doctor or a therapist if you notice these types of behaviors.
- Teens of parents with PTSD are prone to run away, express suicidal thoughts or behavior, and use alcohol and drugs.
Beware of the potential for child abuse.Your PTSD may result in episodes of intense anger where you may lash out at those around you thinking that you are reliving the traumatic experience. Unfortunately, your child can become a victim during one of these angry episodes.
- In fact, studies also show an increase of violence in the homes of parents with PTSD. This violence is broken down into domestic violence between partners and violence directed at the children, either of which can lead to negative consequences for your child’s development.
- If your symptoms cause you to become violent and put you or your child in danger, then get help immediately, or teach your child to get help.
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