Many people think that post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is something that only soldiers and veterans develop. However, the truth is that PTSD isn't limited to just one occupation, life experience, or age group. Anyone who has experienced a traumatic event could develop PTSD--including children and young adults.
Here are a few important things to know about PTSD, including common symptoms and signs in kids.
What is PTSD?
In simple terms, PTSD is a response that some people may develop after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event like violence, an accident, or sexual abuse.
Not everyone who goes through trauma will develop PTSD. There are a variety of complicated factors at play, from the severity of the incident to the responses of family members or those involved--which means that PTSD is a very personal disorder. Everyone—including children and adolescents—will experience PTSD a little differently and perhaps have different symptoms.
PTSD Symptoms in Kids
Although understanding childhood trauma isn't always easy (especially since kids often can't put their feelings into words), it is important to keep an eye out for these common symptoms of PTSD.
Kids experiencing PTSD will often try to avoid people, places, and situations that remind them of the traumatic event. This might mean getting very upset by having to go somewhere or see someone, or they may be unable to remember parts of what happened, or the event entirely.
Flashbacks and Nightmares
Flashbacks and nightmares may be the most well-known PTSD symptoms. Flashbacks are usually vivid, disturbing memories of the incident. Nightmares are sometimes vague and filled with the emotions experienced during the original event; while other times, they can be very specific and realistic.
PTSD involves a lot of emotional responses--and those responses are different depending on the individual. Some children will show signs of aggression, while others will become depressed or anxious--and many will have trouble in school.
Other SymptomsOther symptoms that may be an indicator of PTSD, especially following a traumatic event, include:
- Reenacting what happened during playtime or in drawings
- Anxiety, feelings of shame or guilt, or being detached or disinterested
- Changes in sleep habits, including insomnia or sleeping more than usual
- Being jumpy or easily startled
- Changes in mood or losing interest in things they used to enjoy
- Being hypervigilant
- Isolating themselves
- Problems focusing or getting schoolwork done