Staff Perspective: Military Children and Traumatic Brain Injury - Books to Help Parents

Staff Perspective: Military Children and Traumatic Brain Injury - Books to Help Parents

According to the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center (DVBIC), more than 380,000 active duty Service members received a first-time TBI diagnosis between 2000 and the first quarter of 2018. Embedded in that large number are not only the experiences of the Service members themselves, but also their family members and caregivers whose own lives are often affected by a TBI diagnosis for their loved one.

DVBIC offers multiple resources to facilitate children’s understanding of TBI, notably the downloadable booklets Talking with Children About TBI and Talking with Children About Moderate or Severe TBI. A common theme across these resources is the important role that age-appropriate books can play in helping children to understand TBI and cope with the resulting changes to both their parent and their lives. As the first of a multi-part series examining the stories of military families affected by TBI, this blog will review several books on TBI written specifically for children affected by a military-connected parent’s brain injury.

The National Academy of Neuropsychology Foundation, a non-profit whose mission is to educate the public about brain injuries, released My Dad Got Hurt: What Can I Do? Helping Military Children Cope with a Brain-Injured Parent in 2017. In this fictionalized family story, readers are introduced to the Smith family by Dr. Johnson, a neuropsychologist. The Smiths are a relatable military family with two elementary-aged children and a father who leaves for a six-month military deployment. While overseas, his Humvee is involved in an accident resulting in a TBI and secondary effects such as hearing loss, impulsivity, and anger. Dr. Johnson then helps the children to understand the nature of their father’s injury and provides them with an important coping tool: the 7Cs, a list of reminders for children about what they can and can’t control/do for their injured parent. Per the National Academy of Neuropsychology Foundation, the 7Cs are designed to empower children to feel comfortable and confident about themselves when coping with the difficult circumstances surround a parent’s TBI. Recommended for ages 7-10 (grades 2-5), My Dad Got Hurt: What Can I Do? is a quick read with a story that will be relatable to many military families and with the added benefit of a take-away tool for children to apply even after story time is over.

A similar story is told in Our Daddy is Invincible!. This is a children’s book written by Shannon Maxwell, a well-known and respected advocate for wounded warriors and their families. Pulling from the experiences of her family following her husband’s 2004 deployment-related penetrating TBI, the story is told from the perspective of two military children. Cassidy and Eric are shaken to realize their father is not impervious to injury as they had previously thought. While the book does not shy away from the difficulties resulting from a parent’s TBI, it emphasizes the resulting opportunities for growth and resilience and the support for wounded warriors within the military and medical communities. The final pages provide a unique feature: several brief, first-hand accounts from military children about their experiences with a loved one’s TBI. With an intended audience of 1st and 2nd graders (ages 6-8), Our Daddy is Invincible! provides a realistic, but reassuring story for young children.

Maxwell followed up Our Daddy is Invincible! with a second children’s book, Big Boss Brain: Learning About Traumatic Brain Injury, published in 2012. Main character Cassidy returns to share the story of her own brain injury from a car accident. Cassidy uses her experiences, as well as her father’s, to explain many of the physical, cognitive, and behavioral changes that often accompany TBI. While Big Boss Brain’s target audience is also identified 1st and 2nd graders, it is much wordier than Maxwell’s first book and tackles several more difficult concepts including mechanisms of injury, seizures and medical emergencies, and emotional changes associated with TBI. While Cassidy’s story provides the general framework for the book, the intent of Big Boss Brain is clearly educational and may require more explanation and support from parents than Maxwell’s first book. Taken together, Our Daddy is Invincible! and Big Boss Brain provide a comprehensive and relatable look at life after TBI for military children.

In next week’s blog, we will continue to explore the effects of TBI on military families through books, focusing on several memoirs recounting stories of injury and recovery by Service members and their spouses.

The opinions in CDP Staff Perspective blogs are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Science or the Department of Defense.

Jennifer M. Phillips, Ph.D., is the Assistant Director for Research and Evaluation for the Center for Deployment Psychology at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences at Bethesda, Maryland.