Adults are certainly not the only ones who can experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after experiencing a traumatic event. Children and adolescents can experience the same emotional challenges and behavioral symptoms as post-traumatic stress disorder in adults.
More than two-thirds of children in the United States report having experienced at least one traumatic event at the age of 16. Of children who are traumatized, an estimated 16% will end up struggling with PTSD.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in Children
PTSD can be observed at any age in children after exposure to a traumatic event. Some children are more likely than others to recover after a traumatic event, while others develop a Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that could last months, years or even accompany them into adulthood. The definition is identical in adults and children.
Did you know ?
In young children, domestic violence is the most common cause of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Common examples of traumas that children can experience include situations like:
- Sudden or violent loss of a loved one
- School violence
- Serious accidents
- Natural disasters
- Stressors related to the military family
- Deadly diseases
- Sexual abuse / rape
Response to the traumatic event
The following cognitive and emotional responses have been shown to influence the development of PTSD in children:
- Anger for the event
- Repetitive thinking about the event (ruminating)
- Prevention and suppression of thoughts related to trauma
- Dissociation during or after the event
- Higher heart rate at the time of admission, if necessary due to injuries during the event
PTSD symptoms in children
Children with PTSD develop symptoms, such as:
- Recurring flashbacks and repeating the event more in behavior or in thoughts
- Sleep break
- Depression of mood and sadness
- Inability to deal with anything that brings the traumatic event to deal with
- Anger and irritability
- Intense fear
- Frightened easily and always alert for threats
- An impotent or desperate attitude
- Rejection of the event
- Social withdrawal
- Sensitivity to numbness
- Restlessness or fidgetiness
- Lack of concentration
Traumatic events that were life-threatening or caused physical damage may be a risk factor that influences the development of PTSD. Events involving interpersonal violence, such as a physical attack, sexual abuse or rape, are more likely to influence someone suffering from PTSD after the trauma.
Research has shown that between 30 and 40% of children who suffer physical or sexual abuse will eventually develop PTSD.
Advice for parents and caregivers
Although we cannot always prevent our children from traumatic experiences, there are some things that parents and caregivers can do to help their children find the support and resources they need to experience healing.
It can be useful to learn about the signs and symptoms that can occur at various stages of development. Often children do not want to open up on their own experience due to feelings of guilt and shame. By noticing behaviors or symptoms that seem different or out of the norm for your child, you can create opportunities for children to open up about their experience. The safer a child is from judgment or criticism, the more likely they are to become more open about their experience and the struggles they are experiencing.
Take time to find resources. Many schools, from preschool programs to university campuses, can offer resources for students struggling with PTSD. If they don't offer the resources directly, they can certainly help you connect with the appropriate programs in your area. Children sometimes don't understand what they need and are looking for adults to help guide the road. If you are not sure where to start, you can start contacting the school or even talking to your pediatrician or other healthcare provider.
Keep an open mind about treatment. It is very likely that your child is encouraged to participate in counseling services as part of their PTSD treatment. This can be inconvenient for parents and caregivers, especially if the child has not been in counseling before. Share concerns with your therapist and make sure to ask questions about what your child can expect during treatment and any other way you can help. You may be asked to sit down and participate in the sessions.
Depending on the child's situation and age, medications can be discussed as part of the treatment. It is important that the drugs are carefully monitored by the prescribing professional. Make sure your child takes the medications as scheduled and share with you any adverse reactions or experiences from taking the drug, is essential.
In summary, parents, teachers and society need to pay more attention to potentially stressful events that may be experienced by children such as witnessing violent acts or being involved in traumatic events. Even if they are exposed to such events, special attention and support can prevent trauma from becoming PTSD.
The contents of this article are for informational purposes only. This is not a professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your mental health professional or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding your condition.