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PTSD in Children: Know the Signs, Symptoms, and How to Get Help

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PTSD in Children

When a traumatic event happens like the recent Parkland shooting, communities often come together and jump into action.

Regardless of opinions on hot issues, these actions often have one thing in common: they focus on preventing another traumatic event from happening.

This, of course, is a very valid response. However, it doesn't do much for the current victims who may face childhood PTSD and adolescent PTSD.

No matter what kind of changes take place in the future, these kids still have to struggle through life after experiencing a traumatic event – an event so horrible that it's impossible for folks who haven't lived it to comprehend its gravity.

Georgetown Behavioral Health Institute wants you to know that we're here to help you and your family cope after this event. Even far from Florida, many children and adolescents could experience symptoms of PTSD simply from seeing disturbing news coverage on events like this that can produce feelings of instability and fear.

PTSD symptoms in children and teens looks much different than in adults. As such, teen and child PTSD treatment require a specialized and comprehensive approach.

PTSD in Children

Childhood PTSD and Adolescent PTSD is More Common (and Detrimental) Than You Might Think

When people think of PTSD in children or teens, they often link it to events like the Florida shooting or other acts of mass violence. Of course, these children need all the support in the world, but childhood PTSD is much more common than you might think.

Lots of events can be traumatic – especially for young children.

Stanford estimates that about 4% of kids will be exposed to some type of trauma before the age of 18 which will lead to developing PTSD in children. When you consider that lots of traumatic events and symptoms go unreported, it's not a far stretch to conclude that this number is likely much higher.

The definition of a “traumatic event” is often subjective since everyone experiences and reacts to situations differently. These events may include

  • Natural disasters like floods and hurricanes
  • Surviving war or violent events like mass shootings
  • Attacks from animals like dog bites
  • Neglect from a parent or caregiver
  • Car accidents
  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Personal attacks such as a robbery or rape
  • Medical procedures
  • Emotional abuse from family or peers

Not everyone who lives through a traumatic event develops PTSD. Certain risk factors increase a person's likelihood of experiencing PTSD after a trauma.

  • Lacking a proper support system and outlet to express their emotions
  • Additional stress following the event such as losing a home, the death of a loved one, or a physical injury
  • A personal history of other mental health conditions or substance abuse

PTSD Symptoms in Children

Understanding PTSD Symptoms in Children and Teens

PTSD symptoms look very different between young children, school age children, teens, and adults. Not everyone expresses themselves in the same way so it's important to have a thorough understanding of what PTSD symptoms in children versus teens or adults.

PTSD Symptoms in Children

Children cannot communicate their thoughts as well as adults can – even many adults struggle to communicate their emotions. Here are some key signs to look out for.

Young children (below 5)

  • Reluctance to leave their parent or caregiver
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Becoming catatonic: sitting still or not speaking
  • Wetting the bed
  • Sucking their thumb
  • Reverted behavioral development: acting like they're at a younger age
  • New or unusual phobias such as the dark or small spaces

School-aged children (6-11)

  • Aggressive behavior like fighting
  • Isolating themselves or refusing to talk
  • Developing irrational fears
  • Losing interest in activities
  • Unusually poor school work
  • Feeling guilty for things that aren't their fault
  • Complaining of nonexistent physical health problems

Adolescent PTSD Symptoms

Teens and preteens (12-17) aren't quite adults but they aren't children either. Depending on a teen's age and personality, he or she may express PTSD symptoms that either fall into the adult or child category. This may include

  • Flashbacks such as memories reliving the traumatic event
  • Substance abuse
  • Symptoms of depression such as isolating or losing interest in fun activities
  • Symptoms of anxiety
  • Increased aggression, irritability, or hostility
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Self-destructive, disrespectful, or dangerous behaviors
  • Avoiding places and people that remind them of the traumatic event
  • Insomnia, nightmares, or sleep disturbances
  • Expressing wishes for revenge
  • Expressing guilt for not preventing the event

Teen and Child PTSD Treatment

Comprehensive Teen and Child PTSD Treatment is Crucial

It's important to take a proactive approach to mental health after a traumatic event.

Symptoms of PTSD in children often arise between one and three months after an event. However, it's not uncommon for PTSD to develop many years after the event takes place – that's why comprehensive mental health care is so crucial.

Proactive treatment can also reduce a person's risk for developing PTSD. Teen and child PTSD treatment should be personalized and could include

  • Individual and group therapy
  • Seeking out support from friends and family members
  • Developing coping skills to manage thoughts and actions
  • Overcoming fearful thoughts and anxiety
  • Substance abuse recovery
  • Learning to feel content with their personal situation and actions
  • Additional treatment for other underlying mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder

Help is available. If you or a loved one are having suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

Additionally, you may consider the following depending on your personal needs:

  • Inpatient mental health treatment
  • Local support groups focused on a specific event or PTSD in general
  • Intensive outpatient treatment

Georgetown Behavioral Health Institute is Here to Help

At Georgetown Behavioral Health Institute, we understand that adolescent PTSD is a complex mental health condition that requires comprehensive care. That's why have an individualized treatment program for teens between the ages of 12 and 17.

We tailor this inpatient program to fit the personal needs each teen or preteen facing the struggle of PTSD. Our team is specially trained to encourage mindfulness and stability in a light-filled environment with techniques such as individual and group therapy, family therapy, recreational therapy, and other methods.

If you have a child or teen facing PTSD from the Florida shooting or any other traumatic event, don't hesitate to contact Georgetown Behavioral Health Institute for a confidential evaluation or call anytime at 512-819-1154.