Recognizing the Signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Children
Recognizing the Signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Children

The world often views children as resilient and adaptable, which they most definitely can be. But it’s important not to overlook the fact that children, like adults, can experience deep emotional struggles like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). 

Several traumatic experiences could result in PTSD in children, but if you don’t know what to look for, it may be challenging to spot. Children may not express their emotions directly or may lack the vocabulary to communicate their feelings effectively. 

PTSD in children can have severe negative impacts on their mental health. In fact, it can negatively affect their development. But understanding what to look for can help you get the child in your life the help they need to overcome PTSD so they can grow and develop healthily.

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Causes and Risk Factors of PTSD in Children

Any traumatic event a child experiences can result in post-traumatic stress disorder. There are typical causes of PTSD, but this list is not limited to only these experiences. Even if you don’t think a child in your life has gone through someone you would label “traumatic,” it may be traumatic to them, leading to signs of post-traumatic stress disorder. 

Causes and Risk Factors of PTSD in Children
  • physical abuse 
  • sexual abuse
  • emotional abuse
  • neglect
  • natural disasters
  • major accidents
  • witnessing violence
  • sudden loss of a loved one

While not all children who experience trauma will develop post-traumatic stress disorder. However, certain risk factors can make them more susceptible. 

Some of these risk factors include:

  • The severity and duration of the traumatic event: Children who have experienced multiple traumatic events or have been exposed to ongoing trauma are more likely to develop PTSD. 
  • The level of support and stability a child has: Children lacking a solid support system or have limited access to mental health resources are also at an elevated risk for PTSD.

It’s crucial to note that each child is unique, and how they experience and respond to trauma will vary. Some children may develop PTSD following a single traumatic event, while others may not exhibit signs of post-traumatic stress disorder for months or even years after a trauma. 

Common Signs of Post-Traumatic Stress in Children 

Recognizing the signs and symptoms of PTSD in children is crucial for early intervention and treatment. Because children may not know how to verbalize their feelings, they may exhibit symptoms you pass off as typical childhood behavior. That’s why knowing the signs is incredibly important. 

The most common signs of PTSD in children include the following:

  • nightmares and sleep problems
  • lack of positive emotions
  • denying that the event happened or feeling numb
  • constantly looking for possible threats
  • becoming easily startled
  • irritability
  • angry outbursts
  • repeatedly reliving the event in thought or through play
  • intense fear or sadness
  • getting upset when something reminds them of the traumatic event
  • avoiding people or places associated with the trauma 

It’s important to remember that these symptoms may not be immediately apparent and can vary from child to child. Knowing these signs, you can provide the necessary support and seek professional help immediately.

How PTSD in Children Affects Their Development

How PTSD in Children Affects Their Development

PTSD affects not only the mental health of children but also their emotional and psychological health. Post-traumatic stress disorder can interfere with a child’s ability to form healthy relationships, concentrate in school, and engage in social activities. 

Children with PTSD may also struggle to regulate their emotions, leading to increased anxiety, depression, or self-destructive behaviors. They may also have trouble trusting others and forming secure attachments. In turn, this can affect their social interactions and overall well-being. 

In addition, children with PTSD may have difficulty focusing and learning due to hyperarousal symptoms, leading to academic struggles.

Diagnosing PTSD in Children

Diagnosing PTSD in children can be challenging due to the unique ways children express their emotions. Unlike adults, children may not have the vocabulary or cognitive ability to articulate their feelings accurately. That’s why parents, caregivers, and educators must be vigilant in observing behavioral changes and seek professional help if needed.

To diagnose PTSD in children, you must partner with a mental health professional who knows what to look for. Our child and adolescent therapists in San Diego are equipped to recognize the signs of post-traumatic stress disorder. They will rely on a combination of observation, interviews, and standard assessment tools and account for their symptoms, duration, and impact on the child’s daily life.

Diagnosing PTSD in Children

It is also essential, when partnering with a mental health professional to diagnose and treat PTSD that you provide detailed information about the child’s history, including any past traumatic experiences and mood and behavior changes.

Coping Strategies for Parents and Caregivers of Children With PTSD

It can be emotionally challenging for you to care for a child with PTSD. While you mustn’t shrug off any symptoms and support the child through their challenges, it’s also essential to prioritize your own self-care and seek support when needed.

Here are some helpful tips to assist you in navigating and supporting a child with PTSD:

  • Educate yourself: Learn about PTSD and its impact on children. Understanding the disorder can help you better support your child and advocate for their needs.
  • Seek support: Connect with other parents or support groups who have experienced similar challenges. Sharing experiences and strategies can provide valuable insights and emotional support.
  • Practice self-care: Take time to recharge and process your emotions. Engage in activities that bring you joy and relaxation.
  • Communicate openly: Create a safe and non-judgmental space for your child to express their feelings. Encourage open and honest communication and validate their experiences.
  • Establish routines: Consistency and predictability can provide a sense of stability and security for children with PTSD. Establishing daily routines can help them feel more grounded.
  • Practice stress management: Teach your child coping skills such as deep breathing exercises, mindfulness, or calming activities like drawing or listening to music.
  • Advocate for your child: Work closely with your child’s school and healthcare professionals to ensure they receive the necessary support and accommodations.

Our Experienced Child Psychiatrists in San Diego Can Help You and Your Child Navigate PTSD

Living with PTSD takes so much away from life, especially for developing children. If you notice any signs of post-traumatic stress disorder in your child or a child in your life, contact us right away. Left untreated, PTSD can be highly damaging to their life now and far into the future. 

At BOLD Health, we have an excellent team of pediatric psychiatrists who can diagnose, support, and treat your child and help support you in their therapy journey. We recognize the importance of your child’s mental health and well-being and will tailor their treatment plan specifically to their needs.

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Using evidence-based techniques, our dedicated team of child psychiatrists in San Diego will ensure your child gets the attention they deserve. When you partner with BOLD Health’s child and adolescent therapists, you’ll receive:

  • progress assessments
  • parent counseling sessions
  • home support resources
  • customized child-centric therapy sessions 
  • a proficient team specializing in child psychiatry
  • a holistic approach combining counseling and medication (if needed)
  • flexible appointment options

Don’t wait to get your child the help they need. Contact us for more information about our program and our skilled child psychiatrists in San Diego.

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