Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) In Parents

Is This a Significant Problem?

Bernice D. Mowery, PhD, PNP, RN


Pediatr Nurs. 2011;37(2):89-92. 

In This Article

Nursing Interventions

While encouraging parents to get professional treatment, the nurse can implement measures to help parents cope. However, with efforts to assist parents, nurses may inadvertently use strategies that are not actually helpful with PTSD (see Figure 3). Awareness of what to avoid is key.

Figure 3.

Strategies that Interfere with Giving Support to Parents
Source:Brymer et al., 2011.

Encouraging support from the spouse, staff, and other parents of children with similar illnesses may ameliorate symptoms of stress (Rabineau et al., 2008). Beck (2004) suggests encouraging the parent to write and talk about the traumatic event, although a recent review suggests that psychological debriefing is not helpful in preventing PTSD (Roberts et al., 2009). When parents have avoidance symptoms, nurses can explain to them that a wish to avoid reminders of the trauma is natural and common, but this avoidance may actually interfere with recovery by prohibiting helpful processes of talking through the experience and receiving social support.

Perceptions of risk related to the child's treatments (Rabineau et al., 2008) and parental uncertainty (Santacroce, 2003) have been associated with increased parental PTSD. Therefore, providing parents with accurate information about their child's condition, care, and treatments is key. Assisting parents with procedural distress may also help prevent PTSD (Ward-Begnoche, 2006). It is important to give parents options, choices, and control about when and how procedures are performed, whether or not to be present, and what parental activities (distractions) can help the child (Mowery, 2007).

Finally, because the effects of PTSD in a parent can be very frightening for children, assuring a child that it is not his or her fault is important. Fact sheets with helpful suggestions for families can be obtained from the National Center for PTSD Web site (

Nurses can assure parents that one year after first being diagnosed with PTSD in reaction to a child's illness, only a small percentage of parents still experience symptoms of PTSD (Landolt, Vollrath, Timm et al., 2005; Stoppelbein & Greening, 2006). These findings suggest that resiliency and growth are achievable outcomes of both ASD and PTSD.


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