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PTSD in Children

Tara Dale, LISW-S
Psychiatric Intake Response Center (PIRC)

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety condition that can occur when someone experiences or witnesses a traumatic event which can include (but is not limited to): violence, sexual abuse or assault, serious accidents, natural disasters and the illness or death of a close friend or family member. June is PTSD Awareness Month and there have been many advancements in the understanding and acknowledgement of trauma for our military and veterans. This has begun to pave the way for new opportunities for support, treatment and recovery for our service men and women.

Another side of PTSD that is often overlooked is the impact and prevalence of trauma in children. The National Institute on Mental Health (2017) estimates that 5% of adolescents have been diagnosed with PTSD (8% female and 2.3% male). All children will experience some level of stress at some point in their life and most often children are able to work through those situations without significant distress. Although, there may be times when the stress may be too intense for the child which may led to PTSD.

It can be easy to see behavioral issues in a child or adolescent and mislabel the behavior as “acting out,” manipulative, attention-seeking or possibly as signs of another condition, such as ADHD. It’s important for everyone to understand the implications of trauma for children. Understanding the signs of PTSD is an important first step, some of those signs include: excessive worrying, fear of leaving primary caregivers, heightened (negative) responses to daily tasks, irritability and anger, behavioral outbursts, difficulty sleeping, nightmares and avoidance of people or places that remind them of the traumatic event. Once able to recognize these signs, adults can act as a better support system for children. With understanding and support, children with PTSD can learn how to manage their symptoms and have a positive and happy future.

How you can support a child with PTSD:

  • Create a safe space for them to feel loved and secure.
  • Talk with your child. Be patient and encouraging.
  • Be present and consistent. Routines can help to eliminate worry.
  • Avoid exposure to mature and graphic images and experiences (this includes in their daily life and in the media). These images can re-traumatize children and teens.
  • Connect them with a therapist who can teach them skills to reduce negative thoughts and how to cope with triggers. In therapy, the child can talk, draw, play, or write about the stressful event one-on-one, with their family present or in a group (CDC, 2019).
  • Talk with their doctor to see if medication might be helpful to reduce overwhelming feelings of anxiety or sadness.For additional information on PTSD, visit the Cincinnati Children’s website at: https:// www.cincinnatichildrens.org/health/p/ptsd
PTSD In Children
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