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Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Children

As children go through different stages of physical and social development, they learn to prioritize their goals, actions and learn new things from the people around them. Of all the things they learn, children do not know how to handle emergencies, conflicts and trauma and, are less likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder, especially if they are less than ten years of age.

Children may experience some form of trauma that affects their behaviour, but on most occasions, they recover quickly. In the cases of seriously stressful events like death or near-death experience of a loved one, physical violence, severe injury, natural disasters and war, they may develop long term symptoms, usually longer than one month.

The diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM-IV-TR) describes three symptom clusters:

  • Persistent re-experiencing of the trauma: they may recreate the trauma in their thoughts or at playtime. They might also experience nightmares where the experience is re-enacted.

  • Avoidance of traumatic reminders: they may avoid people, places and conversations that remind them of the incident.

  • General numbing of emotional responsiveness: they may develop speech impediment, sleep disturbances, poor concentration, social detachment and hypervigilance to threat.

To meet the post-traumatic stress disorder diagnosis, there must be at least one re-experiencing symptom, three avoidance symptoms and two hyperarousal symptoms present for at least one month and must cause significant distress or functional impairment. Usually, when these symptoms are less than one-month, acute stress disorder is diagnosed.

Often, in our society, PTSD goes under-diagnosed and undertreated because of lack of information on the subject matter, cultural and religious beliefs. This goes on to affect the child in the adolescent and adult years. They may develop anger issues, including outbursts of anger or rage, severe depression, and the feeling of loneliness. Some of them grow up having attachment issues, with unhealthy friendships and relationships. Adults with a history of trauma in childhood may develop more chronic physical conditions and problems. They may engage in unhealthy habits like alcoholism, smoking, having unprotected sex.

The treatment for children who have PTSD is usually multimodal. It includes treatment for the child, intervention with the parents or caregivers and optimizing the support provided by the school environment.

The child must be safe and distant from the source of abuse. Re-exposure to the event should be strongly avoided. If the child is a victim of physical or sexual abuse, then a liaison with law enforcement and social services is essential. Psychotherapy and medications are crucial to the journey of recovery.

The psychotherapy aims at creating a safe and supportive environment for the child. Some forms of therapy encourage the child to write, draw and talk about their trauma. In some cases, behaviour modification techniques like positive reinforcements teach the child to cope with the fears. These therapy sessions require the presence of the parents or caregiver.

Medications have been noted to improve the quality of life of the child, and aid normal growth and development, facilitate the process of therapy by allowing the child work through the emotionally distressing materials.

There is a critical need to protect our children from violent trauma and events; however in the case where they are exposed, it is imperative to treat these children with skill and support. They are our future.

(Debra Kaminer, 2005)



Complex trauma effects. (n.d.). Retrieved from The National Child Traumatic Stress Network:

Debra Kaminer, S. S. (2005). Post-traumatic stress disorder in children. Retrieved September 29, 2020, from World Psychiatry:!po=64.4231


Written by Idowu Mary

Idowu Mary is a fifth-year medical student at Afe Babalola University, Ado Ekiti (ABUAD), She is a writer on multiple blogs and also teaches creative writing. She is the brain behind the writing outfit - Write with Mary. She is a mental health advocate, who seeks to educate the public on the truth about mental health and its challenges.

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