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How Are Children Impacted by a Parent with TBI or PTSD?

How Are Children Impacted by a Parent with TBI or PTSD?


How are children impacted by a parent with TBI or PTSD?

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[Lt. Col. Jeffrey Yarvis] Kids typically just act out, and the parents misinterpret what's going on as "My kid is acting out in school. I wonder if she's into drugs. I wonder if she's having sex prematurely," and these types of things when it really could be the child is afraid of what's going on with their parents. Although children, especially adolescents, look more like adults and sometimes sound like them, they still tend to manifest their own psychological problems more primitively in a way that's confounding or confusing to the average person looking at them. They tend to look at the change in clothing as, "Well they're being adolescent, or they're being difficult." But I think if you weigh the way adolescents typically respond against the backdrop of Mom and Dad have deployed, and Mom and Dad have had some problems of their own, and it could be as simple as Mom and Dad might be great parents who just haven't been as present for them. That the focal point has been on Mom or Dad's care. And say you had a traumatic brain injury or you were burned, and really there has been a significant change in functioning. And that change in functioning is one, something that the families need to be educated about that Mom or Dad is going to be different now and look different now. But the other piece of that is there may be some resentment and grief about, you know, "What happened to my life? I used to be the focus of your attention, and now you're taking that away from me." And I don't think a child would necessarily overtly admit that because that sounds bad. But they may be acting out as a way of calling attention to their self—a cry for help. And like their parents, they can exhibit very similar symptoms. There is what's called secondary traumatic stress disorder or intergenerational trauma. And we know this from literature on African American slavery decedents, Holocaust survivors, genocide survivors, that these unhealthy behaviors just like our healthy values can be transmitted. It can be increased neuroticism and worry. It could be a sense that the world is not a safe place. These children and grandchildren of these parents and veterans can actually manifest symptoms as if they were there themselves. And so when you can sort of step back from the drama unfolding in front of you and see the forest through the trees, if you will, you can recognize it for what it is. And then those things for a child—adolescence is confusing enough. But to help the child decipher this and help them engage in healthy behaviors, help them learn to communicate, and the family has to be part of that therapy. They're not allowed to just sort of drops their kids off. They absolutely have to be part of that process. And we're finding it's a spectacular program, and we have very, very good results. And it's actually my favorite of our programs because everybody is getting help, and I just love it.

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Produced by Victoria Tilney McDonough and Erica Queen, BrainLine.

Lt. Col. Jeffrey Yarvis, PhDLt. Col. Jeffrey Yarvis, PhD is the first integrated service chief of the Fort Belvoir Community Hospital. He is an assistant professor of Family Medicine and director of Social Work at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences.

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