Get to Know the Signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in Children

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental disorder that affects people after they experience a traumatic event like abuse, a natural disaster, or a war. They have anxiety and flashbacks of the event which makes it difficult to recover. These people also have insomnia and depression as a result. The symptoms can be delayed by up to six months after the event. People who show symptoms early on – within three months – improve much quicker. The disorder can have long-term effects and be life-threatening in some cases if left untreated.

ptsd kids

PTSD is most often associated with soldiers after they come from a war zone. In recent years, it showed that non-veterans could also develop PTSD without being exposed to war. Anybody who experienced trauma can develop it, including children. There are many children being raised in war zones. Others have been abused either sexually, verbally, or physically. Others have experiences disasters or witnessed traumatic events such as the death of a loved one. It can become a chronic disorder in children.


In children just as in adults, PTSD is triggered by some traumatic events. The event can be something that the child witnessed, something that occurred to him, or something that occurred to someone close to him. Examples of such events are emotional abuse or bullying, sexual assault, physical abuse, and neglect. The child may also have been part of a man-made tragedy such as bombings or shootings. They may have survived a natural disaster such as earthquakes or floods. They may also have had a serious accident or an invasive medical procedure at a very young age. It may affect any child under the age of 18, and without the right support, it will turn into a chronic disorder.

There are many risks factors involved since not all children that experienced or witnessed a traumatic event will develop PTSD. Risk factors include the child’s proximity and relationship to the event, how severe it was, the duration of it. Risks of PTSD increase if the event is recurrent. Other factors include how resilient the child is, what coping skills that he learned and practiced, and his entourage. Children with fewer support resources from family and the rest of the community are at higher risks of developing PTSD. Studies have shown that PTSD affects girls more than boys and more than 4% of children living in the USA have been diagnosed with PTSD.


PTSD, like many mental disorders, is individualized. Symptoms may vary from children to children, but some common ones will help identify and diagnose the disorder. The most common and biggest symptoms are the reactions to triggers. Children and adolescents will experience emotional, mental, and physical distress when they encounter a situation similar or that reminds them of the traumatic event.

Others repeatedly relieve the event in nightmares or vivid recollections during the day. They may experience sleep disturbances, insomnia, and depression. Some are always on edge and easily scared and startled. Some children will have problems connecting with others and showing affections. They may be violent or have anger issues. They might experience problems in school due to lack of concentration. Some may avoid similar situations or places, so they don’t relive the experience. Some may start to lose touch with reality and become wrapped up in their mind. Some children show regressive behaviors like an adolescent acting like a toddler by sucking their thumbs or lack of vocabulary. Many will also have physical symptoms such as headaches and pains while showing emotional symptoms.


A child will be diagnosed with PTSD if the symptoms last longer than one month and are affecting the child’s life and level of functioning. Once diagnosed, the doctor and the caregivers will discuss and choose the best option that fits the child’s need. Treatment plans include cognitive behavioral therapy and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. In therapy, the child will learn healthy coping skills and techniques to manage anxiety. In some cases, the doctor may prescribe an antidepressant or antianxiety medication. Treatment works better if the child has a strong support system.

Most children respond well to therapy and other treatments. The symptoms can be gone within months. However, early detection is key. It takes less time for children to recover if caregivers seek help as soon as they notice the signs.

Theresa Smith, CASAC, CRC, LMFT, LPC

Theresa Smith is a relationship expert with over 20 years of experience. She has worked in different areas including clinical work, and more recently a writer. She has a passion for happy relationships and feels that it’s an attainable goal for everyone.

Theresa has several professional credentials centered around mental health, psychology, dating, relationships, and addiction treatment. She has written thousands of articles and many e-books on many facets of dating and relationships.

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