1. Don't be afraid to communicate
Studies have shown that overdisclosure and endless, graphic descriptions of the trauma that caused a parent's suffering can be damaging to children. But those same studies tell us that silencing all conversation around PTS and the trauma that caused it will increase everyone's anxiety levels. Use your judgment, but try to be open. Especially if your children ask specific questions. They need to understand why dad/mom is behaving in this erratic way, and finding a way to explain it that resonates can help them cope.
2. Do what you can to cultivate closeness
The Sidran Institute says, “In homes where the [parent] suffers from PTS, normal adolescent tendencies towards separation and rebellion can combine with the children’s need to distance themselves from the veteran’s agony or anger. Problems arise when the children’s need for distance or self-assertion takes the form of rejection or disregard for the veteran.” Forcing closeness may make matters worse, but creating opportunities for it can help. Try a regularly-scheduled family movie night or game night, get season tickets to a sports team, or tackle a home or craft project together.
3. Teach coping techniques to everyone
Breathing and muscle relaxation exercises are prescribed for many PTS sufferers, but they can also be helpful to spouses and children. Learning and practicing them together helps family members learn to cope when their own anxiety revs up. Perhaps more importantly, doing so shows them firsthand what their combat-injured veteran parent/spouse will be doing to calm their inner turmoil.
4. Say, “This is hard.”
Spouses and children who live with a PTS sufferer can feel trapped in a cycle of anxiety, fear, and guilt. The guilt stems from mistakenly believing they are making their wounded warrior's state worse, or that they should be able to help more effectively. Self-care is vital, and a very simple first step toward self-care is acknowledging that the situation is a difficult one. Teach everyone that when tensions are running high, it's OK to say, “This is hard” to yourself or to everyone involved. In fact, doing so can diffuse that tension.