When a service member suffers a traumatic brain injury (TBI), it can affect their entire family. This means that spouses and children both play a role in what comes next. When children are involved, it’s important to be sensitive yet forthcoming with what’s happening to their mom or dad and how life may change for the family as a result of their parent’s injury.
The age of a child can dictate how they are affected by these new changes at home. Older children may need to take on more responsibilities, while younger children need to be carefully introduced to new sensitivities and triggers for their parent. It’s important for military spouses to pay close attention to how their children react and respond to a parent suffering from a TBI.
Here are some tips on helping your military child understand and deal with a parent suffering from a TBI:
Know How To Explain TBIs To Young Military Children
Most children pick up on something being different when their parent suffers a TBI, regardless of the child’s age. For younger children, explaining TBI to them in a way they understand is critical to their understanding. Try likening TBI to a space shuttle command center that was struck by a meteorite. When the command center is damaged, the crew has difficulty controlling what the spaceship does.
Schedule Family Time
Depending on the makeup of the family, needs will vary. Addressing the needs of the family is crucial after a TBI occurs, but the TBI shouldn’t always be the focus. Developing a new normal routine helps to keep the family on track. A weekly family meeting is one way to discuss things that need to take place and assign chores. Family time, such as taking walks, playing board games, or cooking/baking together are all great ways to give everyone a role to participate in family activities.
Older Military Children
For teenage military children (or older), the circumstances may be different. They may need to take on more responsibilities at home. A parent with a TBI may also be a difficult subject for them to discuss. Take time to rehearse how to explain it to curious friends and peers in a manner that they’re comfortable with. Remember to talk with older children and not at them. Give them an opportunity to discuss the situation with you beyond “yes” or “no”. Finally, stay alert for any signs of risky behavior, or acting out in a self-destructive way.
Watch For Changes
Every TBI is different, just like every child. A military parent suffering with a TBI can have invisible effects on their children. Some children can even mirror the TBI symptoms their affected parent displays such as nightmares, difficulty paying attention, and behavioral changes. Children can also experience feelings of loss and grief, as well as distance from a military parent suffering from a traumatic brain injury.
Seek Out Help For Military Children
Don’t be afraid to seek out help for military children suffering as a result of a parent affected by a TBI. Monitor children for behavioral changes, reclusiveness, and destructive/risky behavior. Finally, remember to keep the lines of parent-child communication open so they’re always comfortable sharing their feelings about a parent suffering from a TBI.
The Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund works to heal our military heroes. We’re building Intrepid Spirit centers across the country specially equipped to treat service members affected by traumatic brain injuries, post-traumatic stress, and psychological health conditions. Learn more about our cause, or donate today.
Posted on February 5 2018 in Blog