Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Children

Any child could experience one or more stressful events that affect how they think, feel, or react to events.

Many times, children are able to recover quickly and well. However, there are times that children will experience severe stress from an injury, the death of a loved one, witnessing a violent event, or natural disaster and will be affected long-term.

When children have symptoms for longer than one month from the event and the symptoms interfere with their day to day life, they can be diagnosed with PTSD.

Events that could cause PTSD include:

  • Physical, sexual, or emotional abuse
  • Being a victim or witness to violence or crime
  • Serious illness or death of a close family member or friend
  • Natural or manmade disasters

PTSD symptoms may include:

  • Reliving the event over and over in thought or in play
  • Nightmares and sleep problems
  • Becoming very upset when something causes memories of the event
  • Lack of positive emotions
  • Intense ongoing fear or sadness
  • Irritability and angry outbursts
  • Hypervigilance 
  • Acting helpless, hopeless or withdrawn
  • Feeling numb
  • Avoidance of places or people associated with the event

Because children with PTSD or another form of trauma diagnosis often display symptoms of restlessness, fidgeting, irritability, difficulty staying organized, and anxiousness, they are at times diagnosed with other diagnoses like ODD, ADHD, and/or anxiety. 

Treatment for PTSD in Children

The first step to receive treatment for a child with PTSD, is to arrange an evaluation from a healthcare professional such as a doctor, therapist, or psychiatrist. To have the diagnosis of PTSD, a specific event must have triggered the symptoms and they have to have lasted for an extended period of time.

Types of therapies utilized to address symptoms of trauma and PTSD include: cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), specifically trauma focused cognitive behavioral therapy (TF-CBT), play therapy, and narrative therapy.

These approaches allow the child to speak, draw, play, or write about the event that causes them stress in order to work through and process it. They are also able to identify thoughts and feelings related to the events and understand their behaviors in order to reduce fear and/or worry.

Psychoeducation for family members and caregivers is also beneficial, as well as, family therapy sessions to work to understand displayed behaviors. Medication can also be used to decrease symptoms of depression and/or anxiety as a result of the trauma.

Written by Emma Morgan on January 5, 2022.

Hello! I am so glad that you are here. If you're reading this, that means you made the first step (and sometimes the hardest step) to seek out someone to talk to whether it is for yourself or your child. You may need assistance in a variety of things, including life changes, social or school struggles, grief, etc. I am here to help! As a social worker, I serve through an empowerment, strengths based lens. I am here to listen, support, and celebrate your strengths and journey to healing. I work to utilize a trauma-informed approach to create a safe environment for children and their families to feel safe.

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