PTSD in Children
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is not simply a disorder seen in adults, children faced with extraordinary events in which they feel that they themselves or others are under threat of harm or, are in fact harmed, may also develop PTSD. However the manifestation of PTSD in children is usually slightly different.
It can also be difficult to diagnose PTSD in children, both because of variations in the form of some symptoms, and because children have greater difficulty articulating their thoughts and feelings. Many of the criteria for PTSD refer to mental states such as a person feeling “emotionally numb”, experiencing flashbacks etc.
Younger, particularly preadolescent, children usually have a great deal of difficulty judging how often something has happened in the last week. They tend to give answers that reflect what has happened today. Therefore asking a question such as “How often do you think about the accident?” is not always helpful. Their free play behaviour often provides better clues about these things. In younger children repetitive play involving reliving the accident, or repeatedly referring to the traumatic incident, may be present.
Bed-wetting (in children who were not wetting prior to the trauma) is not uncommon. Many other anxiety problems can emerge in children after a traumatic event such as separation anxieties, and fears of sleeping alone often due to ghosts and monsters.
Some children may exhibit strong anger, aggression or defiance which may be misinterpreted as a pure behavioural problem.
Similarly, the child may also appear to be daydreaming or have difficulty concentrating class. Hence academic problems may emerge which are inaccurately attributed to an attention disorder or learning problems.
Because of the complexities involved in assessing PTSD in children, it is advisable to consult a mental health professional who has expertise in the assessment of PTSD as well as experience in working with children.
The above comments are general remarks about some of what happens with PTSD in children, and are not going to let you know whether your child has PTSD or not. If you have any concerns consult a professional. Attempts to diagnose yourself or your child using information on the internet are likely to give you the wrong answers a lot of the time!
Treatment of PTSD in Children
Like with adults Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) approaches are frequently used in the treatment of PTSD in children. However child CBT treatments for PTSD tend to use “gentler” methods of facing fears, use simplified cognitive approaches such as “positive self talk”, often use relaxation techniques etc., and may require contingency management (rewards) to help children face their fears.
Nonetheless, as with adults, there are a wide range of approaches to the treatment of PTSD in children with many sub-variations of each treatment approach.
Unfortunately, so far we don't have a lot of research to show which approaches work best with kids.
For details how to find a therapist / psychologist near you with expertise in PTSD treatment
click here .
For 24 hour telephone counselling in Australia call Lifeline on 13 11 14. For urgent assistance call your local mental health service, or attend your GP or your nearest hospital.