Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in Children and Adolescents

Many people can experience traumatic events, including children and teenagers. Some researchers estimate that up to 40% of children and adolescents will experience at least one traumatic event in their lifetime. Most people recover after a few days, weeks, or months, but others may have trouble coping with the experience and memory of the trauma. These people, including children and teenagers, may experience the mental problem known as PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Traumatic events often include physical violence, accident, natural disaster, war, or sexual abuse. Children or teenagers may have experienced these events themselves, or they may have witnessed them happen to others.

Whether a child or teenager develops PTSD depends on many factors, including the severity of the trauma, how often it occurs, and how family members respond to the event. A child or adolescent with PTSD feels unable to escape the effects of the trauma. They try to avoid people or situations that remind them of the event. Sometimes they have memories or “flashbacks” of the event or may have very realistic nightmares about it. These constant recollections can become a real challenge for children and teenagers who may have trouble expressing everyday life, especially what they feel and experience.

COMMON SYMPTOMS OF PTSD IN CHILDREN AND YOUTH

  • Avoiding situations that cause them to remember the traumatic event

  • Having nightmares or “flashbacks” about the trauma

  • Playing games that are repetitive or reminiscent of the trauma

  • behaving impulsively or aggressively

  • frequently feeling nervous or anxious

  • experiencing emotional numbness

  • Difficulty concentrating on school

PTSD TREATMENT IN CHILDREN AND YOUTH

If your child is showing signs of trauma, it’s important to remember that within a few months, most children’s symptoms will subside and disappear. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consult a psychologist for evaluation and discuss treatment options when symptoms arise. PTSD is treatable, so never hesitate to seek help and choose what is best.

SOME TREATMENT OPTIONS FOR CHILDREN WITH POST-TRAUMIC STRESS DISORDER:

  • COGNITIVE BEHAVIORAL THERAPY – CBT is one of the most common forms of “talk therapy,” and therapists can use a trauma-focused style of therapy to work with children and adults. A trauma-focused CBT therapist can correct any irrational thoughts they may have about the trauma itself or about people and situations they encounter in daily life. CBT also typically includes psychoeducation about relaxation and stress coping techniques.

  • PLAY THERAPY – This type of therapy can work especially well for young children who struggle to express their reactions to the trauma and understand what happened. Play therapists use art therapy, games, and other interventions to help a child process a trauma and cope with life in a resilient way.

  • EMDR – a technique that is becoming increasingly popular among mental health professionals. While therapy includes guided eye movement exercises, a child remembers the traumatic event and works with the cognitions and emotional responses they have about it.

  • MEDICATION –There are no medications that “cure” PTSD, but sometimes antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications can help relieve symptoms in some children when they go to a therapist.

Symptoms of PTSD often co-occur with other types of mental illness or lead to other problems in children and teens, such as substance use, risky behavior, and self-harm. These issues may also need to be addressed in treatment to protect your child and help them make a full recovery.

As a parent, you want nothing but the best for your child. Therefore, watching your child show symptoms of trauma can leave you feeling powerless and clueless about where to start. The best place to start is to listen to your child and choose not to ignore their symptoms and struggles. You can get support from friends and family who support both you and your child.

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