Why Are You So Scared?: A Child’s Book About Parents With PTSD, by Beth Andrews, illustrated by Katherine Kirkland
It is heartbreaking that such a book even needs to be written, a children’s book that encourages little ones on how to cope with parents with PTSD. To be sure, I know an alarmingly large number of adults with PTSD, and I am one of them myself, after all , and this book, in looking at a problem in a point of view that is aimed at children makes it even more haunting and lamentable. To have to tell children about the sensitivities of adults, or how what a child might think is funny is not, actually, funny at all, to have to explain that adults were once children who experienced or witnessed nearly unspeakable horrors, or were burdened by the sight of suffering and death, is a terrible thing. But in this world, it is a necessary thing as well, and this book manages to be gentle as well as instructive. If it is a heartbreaking book about a terrible subject, it is handled in such a way as to, hopefully, bring some kind of peace and encouragement to children who might be tempted to blame themselves for what is in no way their fault—the burdens their parents and other adults in their lives face.
The book’s contents are arranged very simply and straightforwardly. The author begins by introducing the subject of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and how it affects parents, telling some of the reasons why a parent might have gotten it, and how it can give parents bad nightmares that make them tired or makes them jumpy at loud noises or gives them flashbacks or that encourages them to be a bit overprotective. The author comments on how it can make adults distracted or forgetful or frequently sad or upset or panicky. The book gives advice to children, like the following: “Parents with PTSD usually do not do well with sudden louse noises or with people sneaking up behind them and jumping out and surprising them. They won’t think this is funny. This is not a loving thing to do and might not be safe for anyone, so it is not a good idea (14).” The book has drawing sections, and talks about how adults sometimes self-medicate their PTSD with drugs or alcohol, encourages children to talk to a trusted adult if there is abuse in their household, and discusses how parents (and children) might need the help of counselors or therapists to help them out. Just as sad, the book discusses how children feel when their parents have PTSD, with illustrated pictures of the loneliness or sadness or worry that children may often face. The author is at pains to mention that PTSD is in no way the child’s fault, and that it is not the job of children to try to make their parents feel better, and that parents with PTSD still love their children, even if they are not always able to show it very well, and that there are a lot of adults that care about children and their feelings, and ways that children can communicate their needs or ask questions of how others are feeling, reminding children as to what they can do to help themselves feel better. At the end of the book a psychologist gives advice to parents and other caregivers about PTSD, helping children cope with the PTSD of their parents, trying to use age appropriate examples and being cautious about giving details of traumatic events.
This book is published by the American Psychological Association, and is one of several books relating to unpleasant and difficult subjects couched in child-friendly ways, including books about parents who can’t be there to tuck in their children and a book about parental depression. A book that was written for children from someone who was not a psychologist would likely not have the same sort of favorable attitude about psychologists, and might be inclined to be a bit more skeptical about the therapeutic skill of many practicing psychologists. It is to be expected that such a publisher would seek to bolster respect in the profession it represents, though. A book from a religious perspective would have encouraged a child to speak to clergy, after all. Apart from this, the book is written about parental PTSD with the assumption that many of the parents themselves would have been the survivors of childhood trauma, although many reviewers have tended to assume that the book was written for the children of veterans, which is clearly one of the intended audiences for this book. Aside from the book’s praise of a dubious and often greatly unhelpful profession, this book has a lot to offer, and is written compassionately and well, with lovely watercolor illustrations that add a gentle and understated touch as well.
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