If a newborn sustains a traumatic brain injury (TBI), parents may have a difficult time coping, but there are healthy ways to cope as the child develops. TBIs are among the leading causes of mortality and morbidity in children, and they’re the number-one source of acquired childhood disability. Parents who have children with a TBI often experience psychological distress around the child’s recovery and the increased burden placed on the parents. However, certain coping strategies can help parents adapt as their child grows.

How Parents Struggle with a Child’s TBI

The type of distress that parents experience depends largely on the type of injury their child sustains, along with the age of the child at the time of the injury. Research has found that parents of children who endure traumatic brain injuries as toddlers experienced greater overall distress throughout the first 18 months after the injury compared to parents of children who sustained orthopedic injuries. Generally, studies also found that parents whose children are injured earlier have an easier time coping later than parents with children who are injured later in life.

Anxiety and depression are common experiences among parents with children who have TBIs, but there are ways they can adapt to their child’s condition as cognitive deficits and other issues develop throughout the child’s life.

Healthy Coping Styles for Parents

The way in which parents cope with certain stressors will influence their distress levels. There are two main coping styles, which include:

  • Emotion-focused strategies that manage emotional distress resulting from stressors
  • Problem-focused strategies that manage distress by altering the source of the distress.

For parents facing situations that they can change, problem-focused strategies may be more ideal for coping. However, for parents dealing with unalterable situations such as a newborn’s TBI, emotion-focused strategies are generally more effective. Even if parents attempt to improve the child’s situation, the effects of TBIs are often lasting and likely to affect the child for the rest of their life.

This means that, in these situations, parents are better off changing their emotional response to stressors around TBIs and other birth injuries.

How Parents Can Develop an Effective Emotion-Focused Coping Strategy

If parents want to find an effective way to cope with their child’s injuries, it’s important to understand that the situation itself may never change. Parents will do well to take steps to manage their own emotions in response to the sources of stress they may encounter.

There are several types of emotion-focused strategies that parents can try. One of these strategies is meditation, which can help parents practice mindfulness and accept thoughts that arise before ultimately letting them go. Additionally, parents can journal and express their feelings on the page, which can help them deal with complex feelings and the pain they’re experiencing as they heal.

Parents should also value the power of positive thinking. While this won’t solve problems on its own, positive thinking can go a long way in improving overall emotional wellness. Focusing on the positive experiences with a child and the other parent can help outweigh any negatives.

It can take time to cope, but with an emotion-focused coping strategy, parents can begin to adapt to life with their injured child.