Unrecognized PTSD in Parents

It’s true. I see it often. Parents come in to my office to set up testing for their child. I ask them about the developmental history. We discuss the birth and then I see it. Eyes go wide open. Rapid blinking. Tears well up. Faces go pale. Throat constricts. Bodies go rigid.  This is not an emotional response to describing the meaningful event in their life. This is post traumatic stress disorder, otherwise known as PTSD. 

Giving birth to a child is preceded by great anticipation and excitement but when something goes wrong, be it by prematurity, labor issues, birth trauma, or a newborn ending up in the NICU for a myriad of reasons, parents often go into a traumatic paralysis. Outwardly they may function as highly competent but later, after the crisis, a pattern of over-reactivity, middle of the night panic, flashbacks and seemingly out of the blue crying spells can persist. This is not postpartum depression, as it can last for years. It has been largely unrecognized that parents of babies who fight for the lives endure the type of stress that turns into PTSD. 


1. Seek help. There are therapists who specialize in PTSD. While there are few who specialize in PTSD parents of children because this syndrome has been largely unrecognized, a clinician with training in PTSD who is flexible can adapt. There are mind-body clinicians in sensorimotor psychotherapy which can be helpful. 

2. Advocate for yourself. Do not allow yourself to be patronized or placed in a generic category of female with depression. Explain the issue. Learn more. You will need to educate the therapist. 

3. Use your community for support and resources. Find a group who have similar children (there are groups for everything). Hearing about others’ experienced will help quell the middle of night panic or the over-reactivity of your body based emotional responses. 

4. Self care: you may not remember this but when your baby was in crisis (or continues to be in crisis), you may not have taken adequate care of yourself. While you can’t go back in time, you can do it now. Massage, acupuncture, long walks outside or an active sport, or involvement in a passion that you love boost oxytocin and endorphins, which will aid in being super defense against those negative moments. 

For more info, read on:



Why aren’t the kids playing? 

Kids don’t play anymore. It’s no secret that playing has been replaced by longer hours of homework and passive screen time. Do we have to sacrifice the previous years of childhood in order to maintain a high level of academic success? 

Here is what we know now. And if we know it, why aren’t kids in the US playing more? 

Read on: http://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2015/10/07/if-we-know-play-based-learning-works-why-dont-we-do-it/

Wired and Tired!

  Parents often ask me if I am against screen time for kids. The answer of course is balance. Too much of anything, whether it’s sugar or iPad games will produce a cranky or dysregulated kid. 

Here’s more:

Wired and Tired! That’s what kids are these days! And it’s not just kids. 




You know what I’m talking about. The village where everyone gets together on Main street in the evening. Where you can leave your baby next door with Grandma while you pop over to get your hair done. Where your neighbor down the block, who just happens to be your dear friend since elementary school, knows to send over a fresh baked quiche for dinner when you’ve just come home with your newborn. What? You don’t live in that village? That’s because it’s not 1954. And that village has evolved into a major metropolis where neighbors don’t speak to one another, your relatives live across the country, and even if they lived near you, you aren’t on speaking terms anyway. Moms, in case you were wondering why you often feel so alone and unsupported, it’s because (sorry, Hillary) the village that has been promised to help you raise your child does not exist. Instead, let’s update the concept. I prefer: “it takes an army.” Parents are the commanders-in-chief and they just might need to hire foot soldiers and other staff to help support everything that goes into raising a child these days.  If it sounds terrible, it’s not. It’s reality. Because if you are one of these ‘do it yourselfers’, you will find yourself stuck with an avalanche of drudgery that won’t let you be the cool, loving mom that you’d like to be: school meetings, cleaning soccer uniforms, trips to doctors, chauffeuring kids to all types of therapies with names that sound like something out of a science fiction movie, and the never-ending need for entertainment – otherwise they will be watching TV or playing video games all day long, or worse, whining that they are bored. If you are overwhelmed by all of these challenges, you are not alone. But if you try to do it alone, not only will you not be able to take care of all of the details that kids today need, you won’t be able to maintain your own personal life, either as a working adult, or as just a human being with your own needs. Remember to still be you. Build your army. It may not sound as warmly fuzzy as a ‘village’ but it’s the truth. Include your circle of friends and family if you can, but if you have to hire them, go for it!


When a baby is born, all the attention turns to the adorable cupid-like infant. And who can resist? Nature in the form of neurotransmitters and hormones, such as oxytocin, prolactin, vasopressin, wires us, both mothers and fathers, to fall in love and be obsessed with the child. This is completely normal and ensures survival of the species in evolutionary terms. Although the hormones do taper off, the habit has been set: it’s “all eyes on baby” and then ‘all eyes on toddler’ and then……. It’s a habit. What happens to parents who ignore their needs, feelings and desires after a while? They aren’t at their best! Good parents take care of their own needs as well as those of their children. Nurture your own interests, take good care of yourself, continue to build your community of friends and people who nourish you. Don’t get too over-involved with your own child, they need to know that they are not the only focal point of your life. See point #1.


You already know that you aren’t like other people, at least like the women who are single or haven’t had children. But did you know that it’s not only your body that has changed? Through research, we know that the brains of mothers change as well. You are more empathic, courageous and have stronger memories for what your children need than non-moms. You also have more energy. These changes will stay with you and will become gifts to use in other ways once the immediate challenges of raising your kids become less demanding. All of those years of sleepless nights, chronic anxiety and massive hormonal changes, transforms you into a super-human being. Stringy hair and puffy eyes notwithstanding. Hang in there; these changes will be long lasting and will come in handy down the road. You can truly move mountains when you need to!


Freud once said: “Biology is destiny”. Today, we know that not only isn’t that true, but you can actually alter your own genetic patterns by your thoughts and behaviors. It’s called neuroplasticity and it’s powerful. We can always work on ourselves. While some things are hard wired into our brains, other things such as our tendency to be pessimistic or our loathing of exercise, is soft wired. We can change our brains. Anxious? Try mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR), a form of therapy that has been shown to be highly effective. Depressed? The world of positive psychology has developed numerous ways to actually change your natural mood setpoint. Practice gratitude as a beginning trial and see what happens.  Exercise, too, is a habit that can be built, just start with one step. It takes about 12 weeks for the exercise habit to get set. Go for it!


Much harm has been done to the psyches of moms by worrying about what others are thinking of you. Its as if moms imagine that other mothers keep imaginary scorecards analyzing your best and worst performance. The real scorecard is in your own brain. Keeping up with the Joneses is a very real phenomenon, we are wired to be competitive, it’s part of the survival gene. Their child is crawling before yours? It’s enough to send some new moms into a real panic! Everyone is better at Red Rover than your skinny little girl? Get a grip, and get her a set of boxing gloves! Or better yet, since she doesn’t likely care, get yourself a pair of pink boxing gloves and work it off! It doesn’t matter who does what first or better!! The road to success is paved from the inside out: for a child to feel happy, nurtured and secure comes from having a confident parent behind them, not a frazzled pushy mom whose kid needs to be the star of the show. Give it up, people! Look in your interior mirror, no not the one that shows your new gray hairs, but the inner mirror; ask yourself: what will make you today a more content and calm and confident mom? Close your eyes. Breath deeply and quietly for a few minutes. Put your hands on your heart and wish yourself well.   You know what it takes. Go for it. And have a happy and peaceful mothers day