Lessons I Learned as a Parent with a Child who had PTSD
I am NOT a mental health professional, but as a parent wished I would have had these tips early on. I ALWAYS recommend turning to a well-respected mental health professional for specific questions and concerns.
Lesson #1: Get a therapist (AND a psychiatrist) who will be very thorough and is well-trained in your child’s symptoms/possible diagnosis/identity (ie. Anger, depression, anxiety, mania, trauma, gender issues etc.) Advances in treatment have led to specific treatment for specific issues. You can discuss your child’s treatment with their therapist until he/she is 18. We always tried to touch base with Ashley’s therapist, but also wanted her to know it was a safe space. Therefore, we created boundaries and rules as a team.
Lesson #2: Get familiar with the symptoms or issue you are facing. There are so many resources available- read through them and talk to your child about them. NAMI and Psychology Today are both user-friendly.
Lesson #3: Remind your child that it is NOT her fault- over and over and over. Make sure others are doing the same. We are our child’s greatest advocate. Sometimes they will share more with one parent than the other. Keep each other in the loop and do not be surprised if your one steps back sometimes. This is a difficult time for everyone.
Lesson #4: Cling to the happy times. Create happy times. The next little while will be consumed with so many new feelings and emotions, so break them up with fun. Travel together. Hold game nights and special family dinners. KEEP the PHONES OFF.
Lesson #5: IF your child is exhibiting symptoms after the assault. It ALL stems from the assault. Whatever behavior changes you see, assume it stems from the assault. Learn to blame to assault, not your daughter. I’m not saying to ignore negative behavior. I am saying to view it in a different way. Learn what “to say” and “not to say”, so that you don’t aggravate the tense situations. These charts are available in the resources listed in #2.
As parents, we made mistakes. It is OKAY to make mistakes. LEARN from them.
Mistake #1: Not talking to everyone involved in our daughter’s life. Early on, we should have shared a short version of her story and her symptoms with church leaders, school counselors and teachers, family, friends. We did this later, but the sooner you do it, the sooner you have a team of support. Eventually, I spoke to everyone one-on-one with my husband and Ashley.
Mistake #2: NOT researching inpatient facilities with her therapist BEFORE we needed one. It may mean you have to drive one to two hours for help, but it is worth it. The first facility set her back and really did not listen to her about the assault. We had one researched and ready for the possibility it would happen again.
Mistake #3: Not going to a support group with our daughter. I always thought support groups would create more stress. I have learned about several local groups that would have been beneficial to all of us. If a religious-based group is important, research and make sure it has a well-respected mental health professional leading it. It would have given our daughter a voice in a place where other would validated her feelings.