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PTSD (school-aged children and teens) Part One

Julia Mitchell-Hoffman, ECE Behaviorist

Not all children who experience trauma will develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. For those who do many times it is related to

• someone they love being killed or dying from an illness

• they themselves or someone they know being badly hurt

Events normally associated with PTSD in Children:

  • sexual or physical abuse
  • violent crimes
  • floods
  • school shootings
  • car crashes
  • fires
  • war
  • a friend's suicide
  • seeing violence in the area they live
  • witnessing domestic violence
  • separation from parent


  • How severe the trauma is
  • How the parents react to the trauma
  • How close or far away the child is from the trauma
  • The child’s chronological and developmental age

Ages 5-12 often present with problems remembering the trauma, often putting the events of their experience in a disconnected order. This confusion also can impact how they perceive future trauma occurring.

They believe that if they “just pay attention better” trauma will not reoccur. They take on misplaced and misguided feelings of guilt, shame and responsibility.

They may display parts of the trauma through play hoping that the distress they feel will just go away. A child who experiences a shooting in his neighborhood may want to play a game of “hiding under the kitchen table” or carry a knife to school.

Ages 12-18 may present distorted facts of the trauma or may be able to accurately piece together what has happened to them. The major difference in teens that we see is that they are more than likely to display impulsive and aggressive behaviors.

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.

  • 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

What Can Parents Do?

Provide support and acceptance

Your child needs to know that accept, love and are there for them. Be an active listener. Encourage your child to talk but do not force them. Remind your child gently that what happened is not their fault. For some children drawing or writing in journal is helpful.

Help your child to understand what anxiety is about:

  • Anxiety sets of an alarm in our bodies and minds that there is danger or that we are at risk. This is a normal process and can be most helpful.
  • It becomes a problem when we are anxious but there is no real danger. This happens when we over predict a risk, hazard or threat.
  • Feeling anxiety can feel very scary, frightening, terrifying and/or upsetting.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (In Adults)

Julia Mitchell-Hoffman, ECE Behaviorist

People who often suffer from PTSD have experienced at least one of the following:

• Natural disasters

• Car crashes

• Sexual or physical assaults

• Terrorist attacks

• Combat during wartime

Think for a moment how these events might have impacted the person’s physical, emotional, mental, social and even spiritual life. In each of these we can see that the person feared for their own life or the lives of others.While not everyone who experiences such events develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), many who do suffer in some of the following ways:

• Recurring nightmares – These can very distorted with some of the nightmares being facts and the other parts just confusing. This can cause an inability to fall or stay asleep.

• Experiencing “flashbacks” (feeling as if the event that has traumatized you is happening again). Your body often responds by your heart rate increasing, difficulty breathing, sweating, feeling lightheaded, nauseated and a number of others.

• Mood changes (More easily irritated, angry, frustrated, etc.)

• Feelings of nervousness, as if one needs to be on guard and aware of their surroundings at all time.

• A true desire to ignore and avoid the thoughts, feelings and conversations surrounding the traumatic event (of then these memories are very raw).

• Avoidance of things and people that once gave one pleasure.

• Having a difficult time trying to maintain positive feelings (love, joy, happiness and a sense of peace).

• Experiencing difficulties having positive feelings, such as happiness or love.What can you do to help someone with PTSD?

• Be patient.

It takes time to feel better and recovery involves setbacks.

• Educate yourself about PTSD.

As you come to gain an understanding f PTSD you will be able to assist your love one in the recovery process.

• Don’t pressure your loved one into talking.

There is raw pain that happens when someone has PTSD and there are times they just cannot talk about what happen. Forcing can make things worse. You can let the person know that you are there to listen if and when they want to talk.

• Take care of your emotional, mental and physical health.

• Accept (and expect) mixed feelings, emotions and thoughts.

Many times the things one thinks and feels can be complicated and frustrating not only for you but for them too.