J. Schatzel works in healthcare administration in rural upstate New York and has a master's degree in history.
16 Tips for Parenting With PTSD
As a full-time working mom with a toddler and an infant, I have found some methods of coping with PTSD that I share in the hopes of helping you through similar circumstances. I hope to share some tips for coping with PTSD while parenting small children that I personally found to be tremendously helpful. These methods are not intended to replace medical care, and I urge you to seek help if you feel you are in danger of harming yourself or others.
16 methods I found helpful for parenting with PTSD:
- Establish Me-Time
- Have One-on-One Time
- Keep Your Meds on Schedule
- Talk It Out With Someone
- Remove Yourself From the Situation
- Focus on Living in the Moment
- Connect With People
- Find a Distraction
- Read With Your Kids
- See Someone Regularly for Check-ins
- Use Positive Affirmations
- Practice Good Nutrition
- Try Essential Oils
- Do Art Therapy
1. Establish Me-Time
As a parent of young children, finding “me-time” can feel impossible. I keep a list on hand of self-care items to choose from in the event I suddenly find myself with available me-time, as I would otherwise resort to my habitual housework routine.
For example, in the miraculous event that both children are napping at the same time, would I rather wash dishes and fold laundry—or take a few minutes first for a bath, listening to some music I enjoy, and drinking my favorite tea? If my baby is napping and my two-year-old is happily playing with a puzzle, would I rather make beds and empty trash cans/diaper pails—or polish my toes, or make a pitcher of coffee to keep in the fridge for quick iced coffee?
2. Have One-on-One Time
My second child was born via emergency C-section, his birth was a whirlwind of chaos followed by a slow and complicated recovery process. In the weeks following his birth, I felt like I was drowning in a sea of people, and too tired to swim. There were friends, coworkers, neighbors, and family visiting. Elderly relatives and neighbors who were unable to come asked us to come visit them.
When we didn’t have company, my husband was away and I was trying to recover from surgery, chase a toddler, and care for a newborn, while working part time from home. Perpetually being climbed on, spit up on, shouted to, screamed at, and slept on . . . all while being called/emailed/texted from work. I served as a baby swing, a toddler jungle gym, a baby bouncer, a toddler snack connoisseur, and a baby poop decoder ring. I changed diapers like I was auditioning for a NASCAR pit crew, and quietly put a sleeping baby in his crib like I was in bomb squad boot camp.
I Was Surrounded By People But Never One-on-One
I realized that although I was surrounded constantly by people, I was getting no one-on-one interaction with anyone. If I was talking to my husband, I was being climbed on by a two year old. If I was feeding my baby, I was being hovered over by visiting relatives. Night feedings for baby? A two year old would be shouting for mommy, because he wanted to snuggle with mommy too.
I asked my mother in law to watch my two year old, and I went grocery shopping with only the baby. I asked my mom to sit with the baby, and I took the two year old for a walk. I stayed up wayyyy later than my body wanted, to stay up long enough to visit with my husband when he came home from work. After each instance, I felt refreshed, recharged, and better able to emotionally navigate the chaos.
3. Keep Your Meds on Schedule
If you are taking any medications, it is crucial to take them on the prescribed schedule. When I came home from my C-section, I wasn’t taking my pain meds as prescribed, because I worried about taking them while breastfeeding. The result? I moved less, was in more pain, recovery took longer, and my anxiety worsened.
I waited 9 weeks before seeing my doctor about the panic attacks and night terrors I was having, because I didn’t have a babysitter for me to attend appointments, couldn’t fathom taking 2 kids under 3 years old and having productive appointments, and didn’t think there were any medications that could help that would be safe while breastfeeding. I wish I had those weeks to relive, because I would have sought help sooner.
There was medication that was safe, and that did help. There was therapy help available, without my having to ever leave my home to attend an appointment. I am so grateful that the person who realized how much I was hurting, told me there were resources at my disposal.
I was receiving weekly calls from a therapist to check in on my PTSD progress, discuss meds and anxiety levels, coping mechanisms, etc. I have always been one to bottle up my emotions, and down-play my own frustrations/disappointment. I feel guilty talking to anyone about my own problems, as I feel like I’m somehow sharing my pain with them as well. It is hard for me to open up to someone, especially someone I don’t know, and have a constructive/meaningful conversation.
I was asked to keep a journal and write about the experience at the root of my PTSD, my anxiety triggers, my coping mechanisms, and my fears. Once I started writing, I had an easier time discussing things, as I felt like I had a better understanding, and could better verbalize my feelings. It had the added benefit of that I was able to share my journal with my husband, so he could better understand what I was going through, than him asking how my therapy session went, and my brain not thinking of anything more constructive to say than “ok.”
5. Talk It Out With Someone
If there is someone you can confide in and talk to about your PTSD, I highly recommend it. I was worried I’d feel like a burden, or breakdown in front of someone. What I found was that after talking about it, even if I did panic or cry, I felt better afterword, and was better able to function in the moment with my kids. I wouldn’t worry as much about panicking or crying in front of my kids, or having an outburst at an inopportune time. If I kept my cathartic emotional release within a scheduled time, I felt better and was able to better control my emotions the rest of the time.
One of my PTSD triggers is having hands/arms around my neck. I used to wake up in a panic attack if my two year old climbed into my bed and put his arms around my neck. I realized one day after a therapy session in which I had a particularly meaningful discussion, that when my toddler surprised me with his arms around my neck on the couch and asked so sweetly for a piggy back ride, that I got up and walked around the living room, bouncing him around and giggling with him, before it occurred to me that he had his arms around my neck, and I hadn’t even flinched.
There are therapists available through online services like BetterHelp that offer phone or online sessions for a monthly membership fee. I was lucky that in seeking help within the first 12 weeks postpartum, my healthcare provider has a psychologist who can call you weekly for a session (or you can choose to go to their office, but with 2 young children I opted for the phone calls!).
6. Remove Yourself From the Situation
When I start to feel overwhelmed and nearing my breaking point, I remove myself from the situation to prevent the kids from witnessing mommy in the throes of a panic attack. Even if it is just a change of environment without removing myself from the presence of the people, that is often enough to help me prevent an anxiety attack.
If I’m feeling overwhelmed being climbed on by the kids, going for a walk with the kids in the stroller can be a huge relief. When my two year old had a particularly emotionally-draining day with lots of separation anxiety and clinging to mommy after we came home from the hospital after baby number 2 was born, I brought him in the shower with me. I was able to take a relaxing shower, and he was content to rub soap on my shins and make bubbles.
7. Focus on Living in the Moment
While it can feel helpful in the moment to distract yourself with scrolling on your phone or burying yourself in housework, I have found it incredibly helpful to make sure I am living in the moment. To prevent living in the past, I can’t just bury myself in meaningless busy work, I need to enjoy the present. From playing with playdough with my two year old, to piling bubbles on my baby’s head when I give him a bath, there are as many ways to live in the moment with your kids as there are moments in the day.
8. Connect With People
After feeling like I was alone in a room full of people, after the birth of my first child, I decided to start a Mommy-and-Me group for moms with small children in our area. I started by inviting a few people I know, and encouraging them to invite people they thought might enjoy such a group. I have since found some of my closest friends, are people I would never have met and connected with otherwise.
After my second baby was born, I made sure we took advantage of as many play dates as possible, both to give me an outlet to connect with friends, and to give my toddler an outlet for his energy. He could tire himself out playing with his friends, rather than climbing on me!
9. Find a Distraction
While I am not recommending getting lost in scrolling social media or bingeing Netflix, I do think that a distraction can be beneficial especially if you are having a rough day. I found things like going for a walk, coloring or building a fort with the two year old, or blowing bubbles for the two year old to chase/pop, to be soothing distractions from my anxieties when we had down time at home.
10. Read With Your Kids
I have always loved reading, and have always enjoyed reading with my kids. I love snuggling with them, watching them learn new things, and enjoying that time together. For me, reading with my kids was a huge soother for me on my harder days dealing with PTSD. If I felt like I was about to crawl through my skin and run down the road, if my toddler asked mommy to read to him, my heart instantly melted.
How could I say no? If I was exhausted after a night of night terrors and panic attacks, a nice snuggle with some cute books was just the thing I needed. If I wanted my personal space and didn’t want to be clung to, I could motivate my toddler to sit on his own and be read to, through things like lining up his toy dinosaurs on a blanket around him to enjoy the story I read from the couch.
11. See Someone Regularly for Check-ins
I found it helpful to have a point person to discuss my anxieties, progress, and coping with, besides my husband. I didn’t want to feel like I was dumping my anxieties on him when he came home from work, or like I was Miss Negativity when chatting with friends. By finding one point person to talk to about it, I was able to better feel like I was enjoying my conversations with other people.
Whether that person is a parent, sibling, friend, therapist, etc., not having to re-explain yourself to multiple people, not having to repeat your story over and over, and feeling like there is someone who understands what you are going through, is incredibly reassuring/relieving.
12. Use Positive Affirmations
One thing I found helpful, was to scatter positive affirmations throughout my life. Simple things helped, such as an encouraging quote as a cell phone wallpaper, a favored scripture passage on a page to draw around with the kids, or a stationary with encouraging words for my to-do/grocery lists.
Pictures my two year old drew for mommy were proudly displayed on the fridge, and the dandelions and clovers he lovingly picked me in the yard were put in a vase as if they were an expensive bouquet. From my Happy Mothers Day coffee mug, and #1 Mom thermos, to the picture of my kids I keep in my breast pump bag for pumping at work, little reminders that I am doing a good job help to ground me in the present.
It might sound cliché to say that exercise helps relieve stress and reduce tension, however that is truly the case for me. I am no marathon runner by any means, but I love walking, and get a walk in as often as possible. Before I had kids, I kayaked every evening the weather was tolerable, and swam as often as possible. Now with kids, I find that it is still possible, and even more fun, being active. I love walking with my kids in the stroller, whether it is outside on a nice day, or laps inside the mall when it is rainy and cold outside. Swimming with my two year old is a blast, he loves jumping into the water and showing mommy how fast he can swim.
14. Practice Good Nutrition
You are what you eat! We’ve all heard it a thousand times, but it truly does make you feel better if you eat healthier. I found that by having some healthy snacks ready, I was able to curb cravings, have more energy, and feel better in general. By keeping almonds, apples, bananas, and other healthy snacks ready to eat while breastfeeding, I was both able to sneak in a healthy snack, and setting a good example for my two year old, as he learns about making healthy food choices.
15. Try Essential Oils
A friend recommended essential oils to me as a stress relief technique. While I was skeptical of her supposed miracle cure for anxiety, and was by no means cured of PTSD when using essential oils, they certainly did lift my mood.
I found a mix of peppermint and lavender to be soothing, and added them to homemade shower bombs for a little added relaxation to a hot shower after a long day. I found lemon essential oil to be a great addition to iced water, lavender to be a great addition to lemonade, and spearmint oil sprinkled on my bagless vacuum filter sponge to be a great way to spread a faint aroma of a smell I enjoy throughout the house without toxic sprays and dangerous candles!
16. Do Art Therapy
In a house with two young children, there is no shortage of crayons, markers, and colored pencils. I have always found it incredibly stress relieving and fun to draw and color, and found it tremendously advantageous to be coloring during my phone therapy sessions. I found it helped me to stay grounded, prevented me from getting too anxious/panicky to have a meaningful conversation, and helped distract the more emotional part of my brain, so that the more pragmatic part of my brain could be more receptive to the practical advice being given.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.