PTSD and Children

By National Center for PTSD

Children often are exposed to trauma as a result of the following kinds of events:

  • physical or sexual assault or abuse
  • family and community violence
  • experiencing or witnessing severe accidents
  • natural or technological disasters
  • life-threatening illnesses
  • war

Many studies have shown that there is a connection between children’s exposure to traumatic events and psychological problems. These include not only full-scale PTSD, but also problems with:

  • peer relationships
  • relationships within the family
  • self-esteem
  • school activities and performance
  • sexual behavior (in cases of sexual abuse)
  • emotional development
  • depression and anger
  • physical health
  • substance abuse
  • fears
  • anger
  • guilt
  • feeling ashamed

PTSD symptoms in children may last for a long time, and may include:

  • disturbing memories or flashbacks
  • repeated nightmares and dreams of death
  • belief in omens and prediction of disastrous future events
  • pessimism about the future and expectation of early death
  • avoiding reminders of traumatic experiences
  • fear of re-experiencing traumatic anxiety
  • behavioral re-enactment (expressed as repetitive play)
  • emotional numbness (seeming to have no feelings, except perhaps anger)
  • diminished interest in significant activities
  • physical symptoms, such as stomachaches and headaches
  • feeling constantly on guard, or nervous and jumpy

In addition, surviving or witnessing traumatic events may intensify symptoms of other psychiatric disorders, such as:

  • attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder
  • dissociative disorders
  • eating disorders
  • major depression
  • oppositional defiant disorder
  • panic disorder
  • phobias
  • separation anxiety disorder

Treatment of PTSD in children generally involves “talking therapies” (such as cognitive behavioral therapy, family therapy, or brief psychotherapy), and may include the prescription of medication by a psychiatrist. The goals are:

  • helping the child to remember the traumatic events safely
  • addressing the child’s family life, peer relationships, and school performance
  • dealing with grief, guilt, anger, depression, anxiety, and behavioral disturbances

It is best to seek treatment from a professional with expertise in this area. Many therapists with this expertise are members of the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, whose membership directory contains a geographical listing indicating those who treat children and adolescents.

 

APA Reference
PTSD, N. (2006). PTSD and Children. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 22, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/ptsd-and-children/000661
Scientifically Reviewed
    Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Jan 2013
    Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.