How Younger Children Often React to a Parent with TBI

After a parent's injury, young children often cope and adapt by becoming clingy with other adults, acting out, or regressing developmentally. This is normal and, with help, will pass.

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When children have a parent with a brain injury, there are a number of challenges they have to overcome, just like the adults. So, they've got to understand and cope with the new parent. They've got to adapt to role changes, relationship changes, balances of power within the family. They've got to make sense of all the conflicting feelings that they're holding about the situation. And sometimes they have to just cope with lots of practical changes-- changes of care givers. Usually, the non-injured parent is not around as much for them. There's a lot of focus on the injured relative. And we know that has an impact on children. It impacts on children's behavior. Usually, children tell us how they're feeling by how they're acting. Younger children will perhaps become very clingy to adults. They can't often articulate why that is, but there's a strong sense of needing to stay very close to people. Very young children often lose developmental milestones, so they may start bedwetting. They may start having more tantrums, sleep problems, eating problems. You can imagine at a time when the family's already very stressed, this is the last thing that the family needs to be coping with. But the important thing is to know that this is a normal reaction, and that these things usually settle, they usually pass, and not to panic about those problems. The good news is that most children are very resilient in these situations, and with support and education, they can usually manage the crises of brain injury pretty well. And other children may need additional support from therapists or to see a family therapist with the rest of their family. But my feeling is that we shouldn't catastrophize it. That children are amazingly resilient, often more so than the adults, and many adults talk to us about taking strength from their children's optimism and ability to adapt and to cope. So, I don't think it's all bad.
Posted on BrainLine December 18, 2012.

Produced by Victoria Tilney McDonough, Justin Rhodes, and Erica Queen, BrainLine.