Children and PTSD

Link to Parents Explaining PTSD


Link to PTSD and Children


PTSD is often associated with soldiers and others on the front lines of war. But anyone — even kids — can develop it after a traumatic event. Traumas that might bring on PTSD include the unexpected or violent death of a family member or close friend, and serious harm or threat of death or injury to oneself or a loved one. Situations that can cause such trauma include :violent attacks, like rape, fire, physical or sexual abuse, acts of violence (such as school or neighborhood shootings), natural or manmade disasters, car crashes , or being diagnosed with a life-threatening illness to name a few. In some cases, PTSD can happen after repeated exposure to these events. Survivor guilt (feelings of guilt for having survived an event in which friends or family members died) also might contribute to PTSD. 

Signs of PTSD in teens are similar to those in adults. But PTSD in children can look a little different. Younger kids can show more fearful and regressive behaviors. They may reenact the trauma through play. Symptoms usually begin within the first month after the trauma, but they may not show up until months or even years have passed. These symptoms often continue for years after the trauma. In some cases, they may ease and return later in life if another event triggers memories of the trauma. (In fact, anniversaries of the event can often cause a flood of emotions and bad memories. )PTSD also can come on as a sudden, short-term response (called acute stress disorder) to an event and can last many days or up to one month.  Teachers, doctors, school counselors, friends, and other family members who know a child or teen well can play an important role in recognizing PTSD symptoms.

Not everyone who goes through a traumatic event gets PTSD. The chances of developing it and how severe it is vary based on things like personality, history of mental health issues, social support, family history, childhood experiences, current stress levels, and the nature of the traumatic event. Children and teens who go through the most severe trauma tend to have the highest levels of PTSD symptoms. The more frequent the trauma, the higher the rate of PTSD. Studies show that people with PTSD often have atypical levels of key hormones involved in the stress response. For instance, research has shown that they have lower-than-normal cortisol levels and higher-than-normal epinephrine and norepinephrine levels — all of which play a big role in the body's "fight-or-flight" reaction to sudden stress. (It's known as "fight or flight" because that's exactly what the body is preparing itself to do — to either fight off the danger or run from it.) 

Many people recover from a traumatic event after a period of adjustment. But if your child or teen has experienced a traTherapy can help address symptoms of avoidance, intrusive and negative thoughts, and a depressed or negative mood. A therapist will work with your family to help you and your child or teen adjust to what happened and get back to living life. umatic event and has symptoms of PTSD for more than a month, get help from an expert.

 Cognitive-behavioral therapy is very effective for people who develop PTSD. This type of therapy teaches ways to replace negative, unhelpful thoughts and feelings with more positive thinking. Behavioral strategies can be used at a child's own pace to help desensitize the child to the traumatic parts of what happened so he or she doesn't feel so afraid of them. 

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR) combines cognitive therapy with directed eye movements. This has been shown to be effective in treating people of all ages with PTSD. 

Play therapy is used to treat young children with PTSD who can't directly deal with the trauma.

In some cases, medicine can help treat serious symptoms of depression and anxiety. This can help those with PTSD cope with school and other daily activities while being treated. Medicine often is used only until someone feels better, then therapy can help get the person back on track.

Finally, group therapy or support groups are helpful because they let kids and teens know that they're not alone. Groups also provide a safe place to share feelings. Ask your child's therapist for refeAbove all, your child needs your support and understanding. Sometimes other family members like parents and siblings will need support too. While family and friends can play a key role in helping someone recover, help usually is needed from a trained therapist.

Here are some other things parents can do to support kids with PTSD:

*Most kids will need a period of adjustment after a stressful event. During this time, it's important for parents to offer support, love, and understanding.

*Try to keep kids' schedules and lives as similar as possible to before the event. This means not allowing your child to take off too much time from school or activities, even if it's hard at the beginning.

*Let them talk about the traumatic event when and if they feel ready. Praise them for being strong when they do talk about it, but don't force the issue if they don't feel like sharing their thoughts. Some kids may prefer to draw or write about their experiences. Either way, encouragement and praise can help them get feelings out.

*Reassure them that their feelings are typical and that they're not "going crazy." Support and understanding from parents can help with handling difficult feelings.

*Some kids and teens find it helpful to get involved in a support group for trauma survivors. Look online or check with your pediatrician or the school counselor to find groups nearby.

*Get professional help immediately if you have any concern that a child has thoughts of self-harm. Thoughts of suicide are serious at any age and should be treated right away.

*Help build self-confidence by encouraging kids to make everyday decisions where appropriate. PTSD can make kids feel powerless, so parents can help by showing their kids that they have control over some parts of their lives. Depending on a child's age, parents might consider letting him or her choose a weekend activity or decide things like what's for dinner or what to wear.

*Tell them that the traumatic event is not their fault. Encourage kids to talk about any feelings of guilt, but don't let them blame themselves for what happened.

*Stay in touch with caregivers. It's important to talk to teachers, babysitters, and other people who are involved in your child's life.

*Do not criticize regressive behavior (returning to a previous level of development). If children want to sleep with the lights on or take a favorite stuffed animal to bed, it might help them get through this difficult time. Speak to your child's doctor or therapist if you're not sure about what is helpful for your son or daughter.rrals or suggestions.

Be sure to also take care of yourself. Helping your child or teen cope with PTSD can be very challenging and may require a lot of patience and support. Time does heal, and getting good support for your family can help everyone move forward.

Post-traumatic stress disorder is more than just a disorder of the individual. In many cases, it causes considerable disruption in the family — particularly for children. In addition to being confused and worried about the parent with PTSD, children may experience fear, sadness and anger. In extreme cases, children may exhibit discipline problems at home and school or withdraw from family and friends. If you have PTSD, the good news is that there are things you can do to help your child cope with this disorder of the family.

Listen to your children. This is the first and best thing you can do. Encourage them to share their thoughts and feelings, even negative ones. Be open-minded and avoid passing judgment. Coming across as critical or dismissive will make them shut down emotionally. Whatever you do, don’t try to convince them they shouldn’t feel a certain way. That’s a good way to bring communication and progress to a halt.

Educate using age-appropriate examples. The best way to explain a complicated issue to children is to talk to them at their level. For example, almost every kid has been afraid of a monster or two at some point. Remind them of what it was like to first think there was a monster under the bed or in the closet. Explain that this is how you felt when you experienced the traumatic event. You can also make a comparison about how they don’t like to think about the monster to how you don’t like to think about the bad thing that happened to you.

Tell them it’s not their fault. That may seem obvious to you, but children tend to internalize problems within the family. Therefore, in clear, unambiguous terms, let them know that your illness has nothing to do with anything they’ve done or thought. Also, explain to them that it is not their responsibility to fix you or the family’s problems.

Don’t provide too many details. It is important to be open and honest, but there is no benefit to discussing the gruesome and frightening aspects of the traumatic event with children. The younger they are, the more difficult it is for them to process emotionally charged information. Tell them only what they need to know. If they ask difficult and probing questions that you don’t know if you should answer, defer and talk to a professional.

The psychology of children is complex. Even with unconditional love, understanding and patience, your child still may need the help of a professional. Don’t look at this a failure on your part but rather an important step in helping your child get better.