The only job that might be harder than being a first responder is being a parent.

First responders spend their days and nights caring for and protecting strangers, only to go home and care for and protect their children. If a first responder is living with PTSD, parenting can become a new challenge entirely. It is important to understand exactly how a parent’s PTSD can affect a child.

Symptoms Of PTSD And How Children Might React

Children, especially young children, are often egocentric. They are constantly concerned with how life affects them, and not so much about how it affects you. Because of this, it is common for children to see a parent’s actions as a reflection of themselves, and makes it even more important to understand how your PTSD can affect your children.

  • Reliving Experiences: Reliving traumatic experiences, whether in dreams or while awake, can occur suddenly and without warning. Individuals with PTSD can be overcome with anger, guilt, fear, or other strong emotions. Depending on the severity of a person’s PTSD, this can even lead to the individual believing that they are actually experiencing the trauma in the present moment. If a child is present during this time, they may believe that your fear or anger is directed at them.
  • Avoiding Social Activities: Many people who have experienced trauma tend to avoid social activities that could trigger memories of the event. Triggers vary from person to person, and could prevent a parent from attending birthday parties, school events, or family outings. This avoidance could cause a child to believe you don’t care about them, or that you don’t want to spend time with them.
  • Hyperarousal: Hyperarousal is one of the most common symptoms of PTSD, and one that can cause a divide between parent and child. Hyperarousal is correlated with a high level of anxiety, irritability, and paranoia. This hyperarousal can cause parents to become easily frustrated with their children, or have a “short fuse.” Children can interpret this as having an angry parent, or feeling unloved. Children can also begin to reflect these behavior patterns.

Creating Healthy Relationships While Parenting With PTSD

Start A Conversation: It is important for children to know that they are not the cause of your PTSD, and that the symptoms are unrelated to them. You do not need to give your child explicit details, but letting them know that there are other reasons for your symptoms is vital to the child understanding when you have outbursts or withdrawals.

Model Healthy Behavior: Silence and avoidance isn’t healthy. If you do not bring up the emotions that you or your child are experiencing, your child can begin to withdraw as well. Saying something like, “When I was upset last night, how did that make you feel?” will open up a dialogue where your child feels validated in discussing their feelings.

Peer Support: One of the best things you can do for your family is seek help for yourself. Our peer support method of counseling and training will connect you with empathetic individuals who have lived through similar experiences, and will support you through your PTSD and parenting journey.
If you or your partner are struggling to parent while living with PTSD, we are here to help you. Contact Peer Support Central to find out how we can help first responders, veterans, and anyone living with PTSD. In our support programs, counseling and training are provided by your peers – people who have lived through the same experiences as you have. Parenting with PTSD will always be hard, but you don’t have to do it alone.