Effects of Combat PTSD on the Children of Veterans
Last week I discussed the fact that combat posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be transmitted to children from their parents in cases where a parent suffers from combat PTSD. This intergenerational transmission of trauma, or secondary PTSD, can drastically impact a child’s behaviors. Symptoms of combat PTSD in children can range from hyperactivity to extreme withdrawal.
Effects of Combat PTSD in Children
The effects of combat PTSD in children vary depending on the symptoms experienced in the adult. Anxiety is certainly one of the most common symptoms and can be brought about through many of the symptoms experienced by the parent. For example, if a parent re-experiences the trauma, particularly to the point where it feels like it truly is happening again, this is accompanied by fear and anxiety that the child also feels. Children don’t understand what is happening and they may fear the parent cannot take care of them.
People with combat PTSD also tend to experience avoidance or “numbing” symptoms as they do not wish to re-experience the trauma. This often emotionally cuts them off from the child and the child may feel that the parent doesn’t care for him or her.
Hyperarousal symptoms, also common in people with combat PTSD, also affect children. Being on edge, angry, or aggressive much of the time can make a child fearful and wonder whether the parent loves him or her.
Symptoms of Combat PTSD in Children
These reactions in children are internal, however, and what the parents and other adults see is behavioral. Symptoms of combat PTSD in children can be seen, mistakenly, as a hyperactivity or conduct disorder or they may make the child appear to be withdrawn and a loner. And, not surprisingly, children often mirror the combat PTSD symptoms seen in their parent. For example, while most homes of veterans are not violent, of those that are, children are known to act out with violence as well.
- Behavioral problems
- Problems getting along with other children
- Sadness and anxiety
- Nightmares about the parent’s trauma
- Difficulty concentrating due to focus on problems in the home
Symptoms of Combat PTSD in Older Children
It’s important to remember that children of parents with combat PTSD do not jut “grow out” of these symptoms; the effects of combat PTSD can be seen in teens as well. Problem behaviors are common in teens where combat PTSD is in the home. Teens may have a more negative outlook towards the parent with combat PTSD and more negative attitudes towards school. Teens also may be more sad and anxious and less creative, according to one study. In short, it’s worth dealing with parental combat PTSD no matter what the age is of the child.
In the next article, I will discuss some of the ways that a parent with combat PTSD can fight the effects that it can have on his or her child.
M.D., H. (2014, March 19). Effects of Combat PTSD on the Children of Veterans, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, June 16 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/understandingcombatptsd/2014/03/effects-combat-ptsd-children-veterans
Author: Harry Croft, M.D.
Any family with a parent who has PTSD is at risk for inter-generational transmission of the trauma. This isn't about some kind of mysterious contagion. It's simpler than that. It's a matter of parental dysfunction, in two areas: neglect, and abuse.
The most overt symptom of PTSD is often depression, and that easily leads to neglectful parenting. This means children who should be assisted in learning emotional self-management may NOT get the attentive parenting they need. While this may not seem like a big deal, in reality it can be more damaging than overt abuse, as many of us have seen in our consulting rooms, working with the adult children of depressed parents.
The other common overt symptom of parental PTSD is irritability and anger. This can lead to over-reaction to the natural stresses of child-rearing, and when directed AT the child, to overt abuse. This over-reaction can be easily exacerbated when there is parental self-medication with alcohol or street drugs.
Native American communities, with which I have worked in three contexts, have been devastated by this inter-generational transmission of psychological trauma, compounded by self-medication. These devastation of these communities is largely invisible to main-stream America, just as the effects of combat PTSD on military families tends to be.
A problem not seen remains a problem, and still needs our concern, care, and commitment. This series is a good step in that direction. I hope it is widely read.
...I search for counseling. My five year old I knew was not handling his anger in an age appropriate way and all said it was because he was the "baby" of the family. But... It's very clear he searches for more... He needs his daddy and he does not know how to express that the correct way. It was my job to protect him and make sure this didn't happen. I can't fix my husband, but I had one job with my son. And I failed him.