People of all ages can experience Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. While not everyone who experiences trauma develops PTSD, many people who live through trauma eventually end up dealing with symptoms of this condition. PTSD describes a collection of physical and mental health symptoms that often manifest after someone survives a traumatic event.
Adults and children alike can develop PTSD, but lots of people don’t realize that children can also deal with this condition. It’s important for adults to learn how to recognize signs of PTSD in children so that they can support young people in getting the help they need. Here are a few common symptoms of PTSD in children.
Nightmares and Sleep Problems
Adults with PTSD often struggle to sleep well, and this is the case for children with PTSD as well. This is because PTSD can cause night terrors and insomnia. A child with PTSD might be woken up by the same recurring nightmare about their trauma, over and over again.
Their lack of sleep can make them feel cranky, irritable, and anxious during the day. They might also end up dealing with insomnia and being unable to fall asleep for several nights in a row.
Being Easily Startled
Everyone gets startled sometimes—it’s a protective human reflex. But people with PTSD are startled very easily at seemingly random moments. When someone has PTSD, their startle reflex is working in overdrive, and this can be especially true for children with this disorder.
They might get scared easily, and this can result in crying. A child who is particularly sensitive is not always demonstrating signs of PTSD, but this can be a cause.
Dealing with Triggers
A child who has suffered through a traumatic event may have trouble with triggers in their daily life. They might not know how to cope when they are faced with reminders of their trauma. Adults with PTSD can also face triggers, but they might be able to force themselves to power through at times.
For children, this is practically impossible. When they encounter a trigger, they may try to exit the situation immediately, even if they are at school. This can result in tantrums as they try to grapple with these difficult feelings.
Feeling Helpless or Withdrawn
A child who was previously bold and adventurous might suddenly become fearful or withdrawn after living through a traumatic event. They might not want to try new things, meet new people, or even leave their homes.
Children who were previously friendly and social might suddenly become shy and anxious around strangers. It can be very difficult for a child with PTSD to figure out who they can actually trust, and in order to cope with these feelings, they might essentially act as though they cannot trust anyone. This is a protective mechanism for the child.
Reliving the Event
Sometimes, children with PTSD will clam up when it comes to talking about trauma, and they may even try to suppress the thoughts they have about the event. Others might not be able to stop thinking about it. They might bring up what happened in random conversations, or they might talk about it to other children at school, as well as their teachers.
In their minds, it might feel like they are reliving the event over and over again, and this can cause ongoing distress. They may feel as though there is no escape from what happened as long as it occupies their thoughts.
Are you concerned that your child is exhibiting symptoms of PTSD? A child therapist can help. Reach out to us today to discuss your options for scheduling your first session.