Children of Veterans with PTSD are often the smallest victims of this condition

When a military veteran suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, everyone in his or her life feels the effects. Nowhere are these effects more damaging than in the way they impact the children of military veterans. PTSD causes changes in a person that can make them almost unrecognizable to their families in terms of their personality and behavior. Well-regarded institutions such as The American Academy of Pediatrics and The National Center for Child Traumatic Stress have spoken to the stress, isolation and depression of military children with a parent suffering from PTSD, and how these children often suffer a “secondary PTSD” of their own.

It isn’t hard to see why military children in this circumstance become traumatized. Studies and surveys with children of veterans suffering from PTSD have shown that many have endured emotional neglect, physical abuse and outbursts of rage on a regular basis. In the process, they have essentially lost what should be one of the two most reassuring persons in their life, a parent, only to have that parent replaced by someone they no longer recognize from their actions. It is a true loss, and is one that military families often find themselves grieving over despite the fact that their loved one is still here.

A child’s reactions to a parent’s PTSD symptoms can be varied. Often a child will mirror these behaviors as a way of connecting with the parent. Or the child, despite their young age, may feel as if they have to take on the parenting role. Ultimately, the sadness, stress and anxiety these children are experiencing make them more likely to have problems with behavior at school and problems getting along with others.

How can a parent help a child in this situation? As a military spouse going through the situation as well, it may help to explain to a child why this behavior is happening. That said, knowing how to conduct this conversation as well as how many details to share with a child can be tricky for a parent. A qualified counselor will be able to help you with this conversation, and therapy offers a true outlet for healing for the veteran with PTSD as well as his/her family.

The idea that the innocence of children is being forever altered in this way speaks to how vitally important it is to provide returning military veterans with the health resources they so richly deserve. By doing so, we can provide not only the veteran but also the family unit with the tools it needs to heal.