PTSD in Children

Information for Parents

When Your Child Has Been Traumatized

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (or PTSD) describes the problems many people have after experiencing a traumatic event and can affect people of all ages. Children and teens can have extreme reactions to trauma, but their symptoms may not be the same as those of adults. In very young children, these symptoms can include:

  • Bedwetting, when they'd learned how to use the toilet before
  • Forgetting how or being unable to talk
  • Acting out the scary event during playtime
  • Being unusually clingy with a parent or other adult.

Older children and teens usually show symptoms more like those seen in adults. They also may develop disruptive, disrespectful, or destructive behaviors. Older children and teens may feel guilty for not preventing injury or deaths and they may have thoughts of revenge.

If your child has experienced a trauma, you, too, may be struggling with your reactions to what happened to your child. For one, your sense of attachment to your child may make you feel as though you also experienced his/her trauma. Consequently, you may experience intrusive thoughts, react to reminders of the trauma, and have feelings of guilt and self-blame due to not being able to protect your child from harm. In addition, you may avoid situations and/or places that trigger memories surrounding your child's trauma. Likewise, you may try to avoid thinking about your child's trauma and may also encourage your child to stop thinking and talking about it. While statements like, "Forget it ever happened," "Think about happy thoughts," and "Put it behind you" can be well meaning, they can make it more difficult for you and your child to process what happened.

Wanting to protect your child from further harm, you may also become extremely fearful and anxious about your child's safety and well being. As a result of such feelings, you may try to overprotect child. However, doing so may cause more harm than good, as you may be communicating your fears to your child through your overprotective behavior, thereby adding to your child's distress and anxiety.

Other difficulties you may be experiencing include sleep and concentration problems. For example, you may have trouble falling and/or staying asleep, and you may find yourself constantly scanning the environment for danger. This sense of heightened arousal can lead to poor concentration, irritability, and feelings of incompetence.

As is true for your child, processing and understanding what happened to your child is essential to helping you feel better. Before you can start feeling better, however, you must first identify the reactions that you are having as a result of your child's trauma. If you are struggling to deal with your reactions to your child's trauma, or if you feel your reactions are interfering with your ability to help your child recover, it is important for you to see a professional. Doing so will help you and your child to be able to move past the trauma.

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