Traumatic experiences like physical or sexual abuse, witnessing domestic violence, disasters or accidents have a profound impact on the sensitive minds of children. They perceive such experiences as threat to their safety, which may give rise to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD can manifest in the form of various behavioural and psychological symptoms. Let’s look at some of the common symptoms of PTSD in children.
1. Hyperarousal: It is a cluster of symptoms that includes irritability, anger, aggression, impulsiveness, insomnia, nightmares, etc. As a child with PTSD perceives a threat to self and is stressed out, he remains in a state of hyperarousal. This can affect his ability to function normally and interfere with his relationships with others. Relaxation techniques to reduce stress can help in treating symptoms of hyperarousal.
2. Avoidance: Avoidance behaviour is another symptom of PTSD. A child suffering from avoidance behaviour tends to withdraw from situations that may remind her of the trauma. Some examples of avoidance behaviour are denial of event(s), and avoiding places, conversations and people associated with the trauma. In certain situations, avoidance behaviour can be helpful. But when it becomes the main means of coping with traumatic experiences, it can interfere with the child’s emotional recovery.
3. Flashbacks: This is one of the most recognisable signs of PTSD. While having a flashback, the child may usually have a glazed look and appear disconnected with his surroundings. During flashbacks, the child re-experiences the traumatic event(s) that he has been through. Flashbacks are usually triggered by being in certain situations or events. They can last from a few seconds to minutes and vary in intensity and frequency. To cope with and prevent flashbacks, it is important to identify the triggers.
4. Difficulty concentrating: A child with PTSD can suffer from high levels of anxiety, sleep-related problems, etc. These issues can give rise to memory and attention-related problems, which can interfere with his ability to focus and learn. This problem can be controlled by teaching the child techniques like mindfulness to control attention.
5. Depression or a sense of sadness and hopelessness: PTSD and depression are co-occurring disorders. The trauma that causes PTSD can also cause depression. Or, sometimes, the symptoms of PTSD can be so upsetting that it can lead to depression. A child suffering from depression caused by PTSD may feel detached from family and friends. She may also fail to experience positive emotions like joy and happiness.
- Separation anxiety
- Frightening dreams
- Regression behaviour like thumb sucking
- Unusual impulsive behaviour
Leaving PTSD untreated can affect the cognitive development of a child. Therefore, it is imperative to seek help early on. Also, it is important for parents to remember that if a child feels supported by the family, she is less likely to have PTSD. So, along with therapy, you can also help your child by providing her with lots of love and support.