Veterans' perceptions of the impact of PTSD on their parenting and children

Michelle Sherman, Jenna L. Gress Smith, Kristy Straits-Troster, Jessica L. Larsen, Abigail Gewirtz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

60 Scopus citations


Although considerable research has examined the impact of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) on couples and partners, relatively little is known about how it can affect parenting, children, and the parent-child relationship. Although adverse effects of parental PTSD on child functioning have been documented, the processes by which these outcomes occur are unknown. Further, parents' perspectives of how their PTSD affects parenting and children have yet to be studied. This 3-site, mixed methods exploratory study included 19 veteran parents who had a diagnosis of PTSD. Participants were recruited from Veterans Affairs (VA) medical centers. Veterans participated in focus groups or individual interviews and completed questionnaires, responding to questions about the impact of PTSD on their functioning as parents. Two sets of themes emerged from the qualitative inquiry. First, veterans reported parenting difficulties that were associated with three PTSD symptom clusters, including avoidance, alterations in arousal and reactivity, and negative alterations of cognitions and mood. Second, veterans described both emotional (e.g., hurt, confusion, frustration, fear) and behavioral (e.g., withdrawal, mimicking parents' behavior) reactions in their children. Veterans also shared numerous ways in which their children provided practical and emotional support. Implications of these findings for future research, program development, and clinical care are offered, including a free online parenting resource for veterans with PTSD based on this research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)401-410
Number of pages10
JournalPsychological Services
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 1 2016

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 American Psychological Association.


  • PTSD
  • Parental mental illness
  • Parenting
  • Trauma
  • Veterans


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