The association between parent-reported child disaster reactions and posttraumatic stress disorder in parent survivors of disasters and terrorism

BACKGROUND: Disaster studies establishing an association between parent and child disaster reactions usually discuss results in terms of the influence of parents on their children. This study explores a complementary interpretation of this association by focusing on the potential influence of children on their parents.

METHODS: Investigations of 5 disasters and terrorist events included a combined sample of 556 survivor parents and their 1,066 children. Structured diagnostic interviews were administered to survivor parents to obtain diagnostic assessment of pre- and post-disaster psychiatric disorders. Parent survivors also provided information about their own demographics and disaster experiences and about each child’s demographics, disaster-related experiences, and disaster reactions (posttraumatic stress symptoms, behavior changes, increased school behavior problems, and decline in grades).

RESULTS: The results revealed an association of parent posttraumatic stress disorder with parent injury in the disaster, parent lifetime pre-disaster psychiatric disorder, parent direct exposure to disaster trauma, and each of 4 child disaster outcomes.

CONCLUSIONS: The analysis suggests the potential for child factors to influence survivors’ reactions. Clinicians should query survivors about their children’s reactions and ascertain the need for services for the children. Future research should examine the potential that children’s reactions influence parent outcomes.

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