Children are aware of almost everything a parent says and does. They watch, learn and often copy what they see and hear. So when a parent has post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), his or her words and actions can affect children.

How PTSD Symptoms Affect Kids

PTSD symptoms vary between individuals. However many symptoms are shared or common experiences. And these and other symptoms can be far-reaching. Symptoms of a parent’s PTSD can affect children in the following ways:

  • Flashbacks feel vivid and real for the person experiencing them. They can also be scary to children and even adults who don’t understand what the individual is reacting to or experiencing.
  • Anger is both a risk factor for and symptom of PTSD.1 The potential for harsh words or even violence has serious consequences for children.
  • Depression, anxiety, dissociation and more leave individuals with PTSD feeling disconnected from the world. Children may interpret this as a parent feeling disconnected from them. They may feel lonely, rejected or not cared for as a result.
  • Hypervigilance and feeling on edge may startle children whose cheerful outbursts or accidents receive negative, unexpected or extreme reactions.
  • PTSD often leads to substance abuse. This leads to another huge list of potential effects on families, children and personal health.

These are just some of the more immediate effects of PTSD on children. When a child grows up around a parent with untreated PTSD, these effects begin to accumulate and have a lasting impact on a child’s wellness and future.

Lasting Effects of Growing up Around PTSD

Children react in different ways when they are living with parents with untreated PTSD. Some of their behaviors can be frustrating, and addressing this misbehavior is even more challenging when a parent is also trying to manage his or her own mental health.

Medical Archives shares that some of the behavioral issues children may express include:2
  • Withdrawal
  • Feeling physically sick, weak or in pain
  • Thought problems
  • Delinquent and aggressive behavior
  • Anxiety/depression
  • Attention deficit
  • Problems in social relations
  • Internalization
  • Stress

Children may act out violently, run away, talk back or otherwise act out negatively in attention-seeking ways. Left unaddressed, children growing up around PTSD may develop their own mental health issues or substance use disorders. Some may even think about or attempt suicide.

Ending the Effects of PTSD

So when a parent has PTSD, he or she needs help. And he or she isn’t the only one who needs help. Integrated treatment will address any co-occurring mental health and addiction concerns. It will also incorporate family therapy into the healing process so that everyone can begin their own recovery journeys. Every member of the family can learn how to get through this difficult stage with PTSD treatment and counseling.

Find Family-Focused PTSD Treatment

The sooner that you reach out for PTSD treatment, the sooner your family begins to heal rather than hurt. You can reestablish normalcy, stability, and a healthy, happy home. Reach out to Black Bear to learn more about addiction treatment, addressing PTSD and finding support for the family as a whole. We can help you find the PTSD and addiction treatment plans that will work with and for you.

By Alanna Hilbink

1Porter, Katherine, et al. “Anger, Dissociation, and PTSD Among Male Veterans Entering into PTSD Treatment.” Journal of Anxiety Disorders. Mar. 2012.
2Z, Selimbasic, et al. “Psychosocial Problems Among Children of Parents with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.” Medical Archives. 2012.