standard-title Children and Trauma

Children and Trauma

Traumatic incidents can of course involve children as well as adults and PTSD affects children too.  Some people are surprised to learn this, but actually it is not surprising that following an overwhelming incident, accident or disaster children will also experience the symptoms of Post-traumatic Stress.

Particular traumatic occurrences such as physical or childhood abuse, the death of parents or the trauma of war are well known to have a profound effect on children.  However, just as with adults, children can also be affected by a wide range of other traumatic events.

The reason why one does not often hear of PTSD in children is probably because children manifest symptoms of Post-traumatic Stress differently than do adults.


Common responses to trauma frequently seen in children are:

  • Poor concentration
  • Obsessive behaviour
  • Denial – “It doesn’t matter”
  • Insecurity and clinginess
  • Anger, often misplaced
  • Frustration and impatience
  • Purposelessness
  • Self-isolating

Other common responses manifest differently in children than in adults:

  • Reliving the trauma – for children this often occurs in repetitive play
  • Nightmares – in young children these may evolve into nightmares of fire, monsters and danger in general
  • Expectation of future catastrophe
  • Misplaced anger – towards family and peers and often expressed in physical ways

Children find it particularly difficult to explain to others how they are feeling following trauma, with the result that parents and teachers may often not pick up what is going on for a child. Traumatic-stress reactions will also vary significantly in line with a child’s age.

It is also important to recognise that for young children trauma and grief reactions are often displayed for shorter periods than with adults. Tears turn to laughter within just a few moments, but then just as quickly back to tears again. A child’s culture, belief systems and life experiences will also shape his or her attitude to trauma, death or loss.

As a child develops all of these concepts will take on new meaning, and he or she will process the trauma further in line with these new realisations and understanding. This means that recovery time may be extended over several years and the trauma may need to be revisited at different times.


All children need:

  • Continual support from family and close friends
  • Honest acknowledgement and age appropriate information about what has happened
  • Reassurance from someone trusted
  • Encouragement and help to express his / her own feelings

If traumatic-stress reactions continue for a child, or appear to worsen, trauma specialists experienced in working with children are available to help them towards recovery.

For children whose trauma has extended over time and/or has occurred within the context of the family, including physical or sexual abuse or the witnessing of domestic violence, therapy will need to be longer term


If you would like to discuss whether therapy from ASSIST can help you, please telephone 01788 551919 or click here email us.