Did you know that even very young children have PTSD? Many people don’t. If you are a parent, a teacher or child care giver you need to know the symptoms. Because of the normal stages of (brain) development children go through they can’t tell you what’s going on inside until they are able to think abstractly. But if you know what the symptoms are and watch for them if suddenly a child changes, you will usually see them even though they are somewhat different than adults.
Children who have been abused sexually and/or physically, or have been in or witnessed a severe accident or natural disaster may well show signs of PTSD that are often overlooked. I had a client who had been in a severe accident where her father had been killed and the mother had been bleeding profusely. The mother sent the seven year old boy for counseling soon after, but the 4 year old sister was overlooked. Because she was so young no one thought she had understood what happened. But children are much more intuitive than most people think. Plus they read their parents energy. They may not be able to talk about it and make sense of what happened but it remains in their unconscious even through adulthood. Melanie was 17 when she came to me. She had had problems in school and relationships most of her life. Her mother said she “had changed” after her father’s death but could not define how, and did not understand what had happened. If her mother had realized her daughter had PTSD at the tender age of four, Melanie’s life could have been different.
As promised, here are the symptoms:
These are symptoms that occur fairly frequently after the trauma and were not there or were rarely present prior to the event.
1. Hidding, shaking, crying at a loud unexpected noise or seeing something that seems for no logical reason. Probably the child has experienced something that triggers the event in her or his mind but adults can only guess because children can’t tell you.
3. Screaming with nightmares in the middle of the night.
4. Playing and replaying similar events in their play (e.g., A three year old who had been in a car crash smashed cars into each other in the sandbox. Each time a 5 year old boy who had been abused by his father came to see me, he would immediately pick up the adult male doll and throw it against the wall and then stomp on it.) Often parents and caregivers are too busy to notice or don’t know the signs.
5.Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. Want to sleep in bed with their parents.
6. Acting out in school. Getting into trouble. Stealing, lying, cheating, drug use, truancy. One twelve year old girl who had been an A+ student broke into an empty house and stayed all day, every day for almost a month.
7. Outbursts of anger at unexpected times. Rarely laughs or smiles.
8. Suddenly stays in her/his room and does not want to join in activities usually enjoyed.
9. Distancing from close friends. Don’t want to play. This is a sign teachers often notice.
10. The teacher complains that Johnny’s school work is suddenly suffering and he won’t listen to her when she asks him to do something. She says Johnny is a daydreamer.
If you see these symptoms in a child at school, in daycare, or at home, please check them out and get help for the child if possible. There is no need for children to suffer for many years and often through adulthood.