Helping Kids Cope with PTSD

Child with PTSD

Posttraumatic stress disorder or PTSD is a collection of symptoms that follow exposure to a traumatic event. PTSD can result from a victim’s experiencing trauma directly or from simply witnessing a traumatic event.

Experts estimate that PTSD occurs in up to 14 percent of the population as either a short-term response or a long-term, chronic condition. Victims of PTSD may have “flashbacks” or sudden, uncontrollable memories of the event as well as nightmares or frightening thoughts. They may also experience survivor guilt, during which they feel strong negative feelings toward themselves for having survived while others died.

What Causes PTSD?

Posttraumatic stress disorder can be triggered by any traumatic event but is especially common after:

  • Assault
  • Rape
  • Fire
  • Shootings
  • Natural disasters
  • Car accidents
  • Military combat
  • Life-threatening situations

Witnessing a family member become seriously injured or die from a traumatic event

Doctors believe that PTSD is caused by fluctuating hormone levels. However, the most important thing to remember about PTSD is that there is always an underlying traumatic event that triggers the symptoms.

Symptoms of PTSD may appear immediately after a traumatic event or may not show up for months or even years. Most people suffering from PTSD have some degree of stress, anxiety or depression.

Common symptoms of PTSD include:

  • Reliving the event
  • Nightmares
  • Re-enacting the event
  • Distress when reminded of the event
  • Avoiding talking about the trauma
  • Avoiding people involved in the trauma
  • Amnesia about the event
  • Feelings of estrangement or detachment
  • Lack of emotional response to normal cues
  • Irritability or unexplained anger
  • Problems with attention or concentration
  • Over-awareness of sensory cues
  • Exaggerated startle response

Helping Children Deal with Trauma

When a child or teen experiences PTSD, it is important that he or she receive professional help from a licensed psychologist, psychiatrist, professional counselor or clinical social worker. These professionals may suggest ongoing treatments such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, medication and support groups.

Parents or loved ones can help children who are dealing with PTSD by supporting and understanding the child’s journey to recovery. In order to provide helpful support for a child with PTSD, parents should consider the following:

  • Monitor children or teens carefully and note all symptoms to share with professional counselors.
  • Never push children to talk about a traumatic event. Instead, provide a listening ear when young people are ready to discuss their feelings. Encourage sharing by praising a child’s courage in dealing with a difficult situation.
  • Reassure children that they are not “crazy” and that their feelings are understandable and normal. Remind young people that help is available to deal with these feelings.
  • If there is the slightest indication that a child is contemplating suicide, get help immediately. Always take threats seriously; children rarely threaten suicide if they have not at least considered it as an option.
  • Encourage children to make everyday decisions to help them feel empowered.
  • Do not allow children to voice “blame” for themselves; instead, remind them that they are not to blame for what happened.
  • Be sure to share information with caregivers and teachers about a child’s PTSD.
  • A personal injury attorney may represent a child who is suffering from PTSD due to an injury or traumatic event caused by someone else, and help him/her get compensation for the damages caused.