WHAT DOES PTSD IN CHILDREN PRESENT AS?
Children with PDSD will often isolate themselves from others and show a lack of empathy for other people – causing developmental difficulties. They may have problems showing their parents what they want or what they feel, or have trouble communicating that they need love and safety – they may also have amnesia surrounding the traumatic events. They could become aggressive and have problems with impulse control.
School-aged children (ages 5-12)
These children may not have flashbacks or problems remembering parts of the trauma, the way adults with PTSD often do. Children, though, might put the events of the trauma in the wrong order. They might also think there were signs that the trauma was going to happen. As a result, they think that they will see these signs again before another trauma happens. They think that if they pay attention, they can avoid future traumas.
Children of this age might also show signs of PTSD in their play. They might keep repeating a part of the trauma. These games do not make their worry and distress go away. For example, a child might always want to play shooting games after he sees a school shooting. Children may also fit parts of the trauma into their daily lives. For example, a child might carry a gun to school after seeing a school shooting.
Teens (ages 12-18)
Teens are in between children and adults. Some PTSD symptoms in teens begin to look like those of adults. One difference is that teens are more likely than younger children or adults to show impulsive and aggressive behaviors.
What are the other effects of trauma on children?
Besides PTSD, children and teens that have gone through trauma often have other types of problems. Much of what we know about the effects of trauma on children comes from the research on child sexual abuse. This research shows that sexually abused children often have problems with
- Fear, worry, sadness, anger, feeling alone and apart from others, feeling as if people are looking down on them, low self-worth, and not being able to trust others
- Behaviors such as aggression, out-of-place sexual behavior, self-harm, and abuse of drugs or alcohol
Cognitive Behaviour Therapy
For children and young people with PTSD, trauma-focused CBT is usually recommended.
This will normally involve a course of 8-12 sessions that have been adapted to suit the child’s age, circumstances and level of development. Where appropriate, treatment will include consulting with and involving the child’s family.
Play therapy can be used to treat young children with PTSD who are not able to deal with the trauma more directly. The therapist uses games, drawings, and other methods to help children process their traumatic memories.
Treatment with medication is not usually recommended for children and young people with PTSD.