My daughter is 41-years old. She had a severe TBI when she was 17. She now has a 3-year-old son and is raising him as a single mother. How will her brain injury affect my grandson as he gets older and cannot understand why she acts like a 13-year old? Has any research been done on this?
This is a difficult question to answer without details of your daughter’s injury. I am not sure what you mean when you say she “acts like a 13-year old.” But here are some things to watch for:
- Is your daughter cognitively able to remember and organize their lives so that your grandson’s basic needs are met? If you are concerned about her ability to provide food, clothing, shelter, and safety on a consistent basis, somebody needs to step in.
- Is she able to consistently show her son love and affection, and to manage her emotions when he does things that frustrate her? Being able to experience unconditional love early in childhood has a significant effect on how confident a child will be as he gets older.
- Is she able to set limits and stick to them when she is challenged; can she see things from another’s point of view and put someone else’s needs before her own? These are the building blocks of being able to provide constructive discipline. An environment with inconsistent rules, or where a young child perceives he can manipulate his parent, can lead to either withdrawal or to anger and acting-out behavior.
The good news is that many of the skills required for parenting can be taught. Even with your daughter “acting like a 13-year old,” the fact is she is 41 — she is not in the midst of the hormonal upheaveal of a 13-year old, and she does have some life experience behind her. She might benefit from a parenting class or the support of either a developmental therapist or a support group of other parents with brain injuries (if available in your area).
It is also important that her son, as he gets older, be educated about the effects of his mother’s brain injury. And it's important to remember that, until he is older, he will not view her as acting like a 13-year old; to him she is just “mom.” Young children are very accepting of their parents and he likely does not view her as different. While there may be some specific deficits your daughter has that need to be compensated for, as long as she is providing a safe, loving environment, your grandson should be alright.
Dr. Celeste Campbell is a neuropsychologist in the Polytrauma Program at the Washington, DC Veterans Administration Medical Center. She has a long history of providing cognitive psychotherapy and developing residential behavioral management programs for children and adults.