When when a parent comes home with a brain injury or mental illness like PTSD or depression, it can be much more confusing for children. The injury is invisible, and the ways in which dad or mom has changed are much less predictable. That's why it's important for kids to get help understanding how their parent has been affected, and what to expect.
But being clear about these challenges is part of being the best parent you can be. Kids are going to notice changes in their mom or dad whether or not they know what's going on. Therefore, it's a good idea to try to talk to them about what's going on. Otherwise, they're left to fill in the blanks themselves, and may come up with other ways of explaining the changes in the parent, like "Mommy must be mad at me because I didn't write her" or "Daddy is happier without me around."
To help children understand a brain injury or psychiatric disorder, it may be helpful with younger children to talk about "invisible injuries." Even though you can't see the hurt, it's there, like a stomachache. Give examples of some of the changes the child may notice, like anger and frustration, forgetfulness, or sleepiness.
Gear your conversation about Mom or Dad's injuries to each child's developmental level. For instance:
Here are some other tips for talking to kids about TBI & mental health changes. These tips could be applied to any situation where a parent has an ongoing struggle with a mental health condition:
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