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Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Children

Post-traumatic stress disorder in children

PTSD is a clinical anxiety disorder with significant behavioral, cognitive, social, physical, and emotional symptoms. It is triggered by a traumatic event. This event can be witnessing or becoming a victim of sexual abuse, physical abuse, domestic violence, car accidents or natural disasters. The risk of developing PTSD in children is related to the severity of the trauma, the proximity of the affected child to the trauma, and the child's relationship to the victim.

  See also: Anxiety Disorders in Children

PTSD Symptoms in Children

Days or months after the traumatic event, the child may initially show confused or agitated behavior. They begin to feel intense fear, sadness, anger and helplessness. Those who have experienced repeated trauma sometimes develop a kind of emotional numbing called dissociation. Children with PTSD tend to avoid places, situations and people who remind them of the traumatic experience. They may also become depressed, less responsive, and detached.

Often, children suffering from this anxiety disorder may re-experience the event by having nightmares or frightening dreams. They may also have frequent memories of the traumatic event. They may also act and feel like the experience is happening again. They may develop repeated emotional and physical symptoms when they are reminded of the event.

Other symptoms include being startled and frightened easily, acting younger than their age, lack of concentration and focus, problems staying or falling asleep, and losing interest in many activities.

PTSD diagnosis in Children

Post-traumatic stress disorder in children is often misdiagnosed. This is because most of the time, the child is unable to talk about his feelings, his thoughts, and his experiences. Given the trauma and the shock, the child is often afraid of talking about it. However, clues sometimes manifest in the child's behavior and activities. For example, when asked to draw, the traumatized child is likely to draw something that depicts the traumatic event or something related to it.

The doctor or the clinician often relies on the family who sometimes cannot provide accurate information about the problem and relevant history. The family may also make no connection between the past traumatic event and the present symptoms. Or worse, the family has no idea what really happened.

Child PTSD Treatment

PTSD in children is treated with psychotherapy. It may be an individual, group or family session. This allows the child to talk, play, draw, and write about the event, which is very helpful in reducing the child's fears and anxiety.

Medication may also be helpful in dealing with other symptoms like depression and other physical manifestations.

Still, the best way to win combat PTSD is through the support from the family and friends of the child.

How to Deal with a Traumatized Child: Parenting A Child Who Has Experienced Trauma

Children who have been exposed to trauma stressors are at the risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder. It is therefore advisable for caregivers and parents to offer much needed support to children in order to help them transition and cope with any rampant emotions and distressful feelings associated with tragic events. However, there are some general dos and don’ts to beware of when dealing with children who are at risk of developing post traumatic stress disorder.

What to do?

Reassure safety

Children need reassurance that everything will be alright. Letting them know that you are there to support and protect them will ease their heightened alertness, decrease the bouts of fear and help keep emotions in check.

Maintain a predictable schedule

Avoid throwing your child off schedule. Sticking to a rather predictable schedule helps reduce stress and anxiety. Make seamless transitions and try to introduce new activities and situations gradually so as not to overwhelm them. Plus a schedule provides a child with a guideline of what to expect throughout their day and eliminates uncertainties.

Practice good listening

Hear your child out. Give them enough time to express their emotions and feelings. In the case of younger children who are not able to communicate their emotions, pay close attention to any sudden behavior changes as these will offer valuable clues for you to understand what they could be trying to communicate.

Share information on a need-to-know basis

It is very important to shield your child from things that they do not necessarily need to be exposed to. Only share information that an inquisitive young mind can handle, or only answer their questions in a basic and child-friendly manner. Spare any details that are otherwise not necessary to avoid further causing distress. This is where you would also want to limit exposure to media outlets like watching news following a tragic event.

Stay cool and collected

In the event of a trauma, everyone and everything around a child might seem chaotic. It is very important as the adult to remain calm and reassuring. Children can easily sense fear and helplessness being displayed by those that they are looking up to for protection. When a child picks up a negative vibe it can send them into a spiral of anxiety attacks and emotional distress, further making a bad situation even worse!

Be vigilant

Be on the lookout for lingering symptoms of distress that are often associated with post-traumatic stress disorder. If you notice that your child is regressing, can’t stay asleep through the night, takes longer to fall asleep, is easily startled or has sudden outbursts of temper tantrums, do not ignore these signs. Seek help!


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