After a Trauma: What to look for in Children!
After such a major incident as Sandy Hook, the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to impact young people in dramatic profound ways. Studies show that about 15-43% of girls and 14-43% of boys go through at least one trauma. Of those children and teens who have had a trauma, 3-15% of girls and 1-6% of boys develop PTSD.
So what are the risk factors for PTSD? There are three factors which have shown to raise the chances that children will get PTSD. These factors are:
- How close or far away the child is from the trauma
School-aged children (ages 5-12)
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.
Other signs include:
- disturbing memories or flashbacks
- repeated nightmares and dreams of death
- belief in omens and prediction of disastrous future events
- pessimism about the future and expectation of early death
- avoiding reminders of traumatic experiences
- fear of re-experiencing traumatic anxiety
- behavioral re-enactment (expressed as repetitive play)
- emotional numbness (seeming to have no feelings, except perhaps anger)
- diminished interest in significant activities
- physical symptoms, such as stomachaches and headaches
- feeling constantly on guard, or nervous and jumpy
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.
In addition, surviving or witnessing traumatic events may intensify symptoms of other psychiatric disorders, such as:
- attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder
- dissociative disorders
- major depression
- oppositional defiant disorder
- panic disorder
- separation anxiety disorder
What are the other effects of trauma on children?
- 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
How to get help for a teen suffering from PTSD?Treatment of PTSD in children generally involves "talking therapies" (such as cognitive behavioral therapy, family therapy, or brief psychotherapy), and may include the prescription of medication by a psychiatrist. The goals are:
- helping the child to remember the traumatic events safely
- addressing the child's family life, peer relationships, and school performance
- dealing with grief, guilt, anger, depression, anxiety, and behavioral disturbances