Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in Kids

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in Kids

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) affects more than 400,000 children every year. It happens when a child experiences symptoms like fear or shock for at least one month post a traumatic event. Usually, the incident involves a scary situation where they either would have seen something scary or would have gotten hurt or experienced the potential of getting seriously hurt or dying. Let’s learn a bit more about this disorder and how to treat a child who suffers from it.

What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a condition that happens soon after a child has experienced something terrifying, either mentally or physically, causing him or her to have frightening and persistent memories or flashbacks of the even. Sometimes PTSD symptoms can go on for six months or more, but usually, it can be treated within three months. PTSD in children, if not treated over time, can develop into a chronic disorder.

What Causes PTSD in Kids?

In kids, the range of events that can cause PTSD is much more extensive than adults. For example, anything ‘painful, yucky or scary’ may not be strong enough to affect adults but can have a traumatic effect on kids who are smaller and less able to control their environment. Below are a few causes that can cause PTSD in kids:

1. Child Abuse

Child abuse and PTSD have a direct link. Any abuse whether it is physical, sexual, mental or even behaviour that a child might view as scary can be a traumatic event. This includes bullying by peers or adults.

2. Childhood Neglect

PTSD and child neglect are also commonly associated. If a child is neglected at an early age or subjected to adverse conditions, not only will they develop radical attachment disorder (RAD) but also experience PTSD.

3. Any Medical Intervention

If a child requires any medical intervention which involves surgeries, tests or procedures, the process can be scary and traumatic for them. For example, a child being wheeled into surgery and surrounded by doctors with their faces covered in masks before being subjected to a medical test can be traumatising.

4. Loss of a Loved One

Children who lose a parent or a sibling when they are young can experience PTSD later on from the resulting trauma.

5. Accidents

If a child is involved in a plane, car or train accident, it can result in trauma post the event. This is even true of accidents which happen on the playground or at home.

6. Violence

If a child witnesses any violent act at a young age, like a parent being abused, war, gang violence or shooting, then it may leave a traumatic effect on his mind.

7. Divorced Parents

A divorce between parents without them addressing the issue properly with their child often creates more trauma in the mind of the child than they would think.

8. Adopting

Even though adopting a child is a loving act, for many children it can cause trauma because it is still a significant change and they do not have any control over it. Newborns will feel the lack of their mother’s body rhythms and voices they were synced together for nine months. For older children, the trauma may be bigger.

9. Moving House

A new place, a new environment, a new school, and new friends to adjust to maybe stressful and traumatic for the child, as they again have no control over the situation and parents are usually too busy with the changes.

10. Calamities

Any disaster which occurs like an earthquake, tsunami, fire, flood, collapsing of a bridge and so on, where the child will see adults around him helpless, can cause some severe trauma and PTSD later on.

Depressed child

Which Children are Most at the Risk of Getting PTSD?

The following children are at a higher risk of getting PTSD

  • Children who have been through multiple occurrences of the event
  • Children who were extremely frightened by the event
  • Children who were nearby when the event occurred
  • Children who experienced prolonged traumatic events.
  • Kids whose parents and peers are not very supportive following the event
  • Kids who may not be too resilient post the event
  • Children who are unable to cope well after the event

Signs of PTSD in Children

To identify PTSD in children, symptoms usually include disturbing memories, flashbacks, or nightmares. Some other signs are:

  • Trouble sleeping
  • Feelings of depression or irritability
  • Loss of touch with reality
  • Reliving the event in his mind
  • Having flashbacks through association with certain sounds, smells or sights.
  • Problems in school
  • Problems focusing on something
  • Reluctance to visit certain places due to bad memories experienced there
  • Fear of dying at a young age
  • Display childish behaviour like wetting the bed or sucking their thumb.
  • Constant physical ailments like headaches or stomachaches.
  • Trouble showing affection
  • Exhibit violent behaviour
  • Always jittery, nervous and watchful
  • Loss of interest in things they used to enjoy
  • Unresponsive or numb

How is PTSD Diagnosed in a Child?

Trauma doesn’t necessarily always cause PTSD. PTSD is only diagnosed if the symptoms post the traumatic event happen for more than a month and have an adverse effect on the child’s development. Symptoms can usually be observed within three months for most children. But for some children, they can start even years later. PTSD in a child can be diagnosed by a mental health expert or a child psychiatrist, who will:

  • Do a childhood PTSD test
  • Or a mental health evaluation

Treatment for Childhood PTSD

The type of treatment employed will depend on your child’s symptoms, gender, and age. It also depends on the severity of the condition. If your child has PTSD, it can be treated. Diagnosis very early on is the key. Treatment and therapy can help enhance your child’s development and give him relief. There are two ways of treatment:

1. CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy)

A child psychiatrist will help a child work on his anxiety so that he can get the skills to manage it better and deal with the memories associated with the traumatic event.

2. Anxiety Medication

The child psychiatrist can prescribe medicines for depression or anxiety which can help your child feel much calmer.

Recovery will depend on the child’s resilience, the support he receives from his family and community and his skills with coping. Recovery times vary but can happen within six months.

What Can Parents Do to Help Children with PTSD?

You as a parent can play an essential role in your child’s recovery from PTSD. Here are some tips:

  • Take your child’s symptoms, especially anxiety and depression very seriously and seek professional help immediately as suicide might be a significant risk.
  • Provide support and look for counselling for children and teenagers who have been through trauma.
  • Be regular with all the appointments made with your child’s counsellor or psychiatrist
  • Tell others, like your child’s school or friends about his PTSD so that you can collectively make a plan for treatment
  • Discuss with your child’s doctor on what other types of healthcare he will receive. This may be from a team of counsellors, psychiatrists, therapists, and social workers. Keep informed of his various needs.
  • Be in touch with other parents whose children have PTSD and take support from your local community.

How Can You Prevent PTSD in Your Kids?

You can employ a few ways to prevent PTSD in your children, which include:

  • Take an active role to encourage programs on prevention in your local community or school.
  • Teach your children that it is okay to say no to someone who touches his body without permission or makes him feel uncomfortable.

When to Call the Healthcare Provider

Call your child’s healthcare provider if he displays the following symptoms. It may indicate post-traumatic stress disorder childhood trauma:

  • If he feels out of control
  • Hears imaginary voices
  • Sees imaginary things
  • Doesn’t eat or sleep for three days continuous
  • If he feels extreme anxiety, depression, or fear
  • If he displays anger or violence towards others
  • If he displays strange behaviour that incites concern among family, friends or teachers.

An important thing to remember is that trauma is not equal to PTSD. A child goes through a traumatic event will not necessarily develop PTSD. If the trauma symptoms remain even after three months of the event, only then is it described as PTSD, a condition which can be treated effectively. So, you can breathe easy!

Also Read: How to Deal with Depression in Children?