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Part I-PTSD in children is more common than you think

Part I-PTSD in children is more common than you think

Today, trauma and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are popular topics within the ranks of mental health, insurance companies, and education professionals. The last decade of research has shown that a larger percentage of the population has suffered from trauma, more than ever before believed.

For years, children have suffered from trauma without professional help. In several cases, these children struggle through school with intense fear, anxiety, and anger. The belief that they in imminent danger causes attention concerns at school, the work place and in both casual and close relationships.


Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health disorder that can develop in a person after they have experienced one or more traumatic events. Most of us experience traumatic events, but only a small % go on to develop PTSD. Why is this?

This short explains what causes trauma in children and how their brain responds to traumatic events.

Children suffer traumatic events every day

7 common causes of PTSD in children

1. Child abuse

Sadly, child abuse is the most common cause of PTSD in children. Each year in the United States, there are over 3 millions cases of reported child abuse.

Abuse comes in many forms such as : physical abuse, emotional abuse and sexual abuse. The definition of abuse is pretty clear, any emotional or physical behavior that the child genuinely believes is abusive towards them. This would include hitting, kicking, excessive spanking, inappropriate sexual contact, shaming, insulting, swearing, name calling etc.

2. Parental neglect

75% of all substantiated abuse cases involving children often include parental neglect. Neglect comes in several forms such as; emotional neglect (not enough love, compassion and being cared for) and physical neglect (food, water, clothing, shelter). Neglect can also include not being watched over, left alone for several hours- even days, being put in dangerous situations, and not attending school on a regular basis.

3. Witnessing violence

A recent survey suggested that up to 50% of graduating seniors experience trauma by one or more of these three events:

  • witnessing a violent assault on someone else
  • being the victim of physical assault
  • being the victim of sexual assault

4. Accidents

Thousands of traffic accidents happen every day and many of them include children. Children are injured, mamed and killed daily in car accidents. Being the survivor of a devastating traffic accident can be painful both physically and emotionally. After surviving a tragic accident, children often develop trauma related to cars and traveling. Other ‘accidents’ might include witnessing a loved one or experiencing themselves injuries related to riding a bike, using knives, working with power tools, or witnessing a devastating sports injury.

5. Divorce

Thousands of marriages end in divorce every year and parents understand that divorce is going to be challenging for their children. Few parents believe it will cause their children trauma. When divorces end amicably, it is still challenging and painful for children. If a divorce ‘gets ugly’ and parents fight, insult each other, physically abuse one another, refuse visits, or fight during weekend exchanges, the result is often trauma. It is so important that parents do their absolute most to not fight in front of children, and still equally important after the divorce. Another challenging aspect of divorce is that it often times requires moving. Moving to a new home, new school, and new neighborhood can also be the cause for a traumatic event.

6. Death of a loved one

Even for the most high functioning of adults, experiencing the death of a loved one is hard. From a child’s perspective, this challenging time can feel unbearable and impossible to comprehend intellectually and emotionally. These painful emotions often turn to anger, sadness, and emotional distance from others.

7. Adoption/foster care

Children who are removed from their home (whatever the reason) will naturally experience some form of trauma, and in most cases have experienced several traumatic events. For example, the child has already been the victim of neglect or abuse, their guardian has passed away, their guardian has been incarcerated or become incapacitated, or lastly the child has become ungovernable.

Single cause cases are rare

Several of these ‘common causes’ happen simultaneously and it’s all too common for children to have multiple traumatic events in a short period of time Ultimately, these traumatic events have an overwhelming impact on the child’s view of the world, relationships, and perception of personal safety and stability.

Here’s an example;

Let’s say that Fred and Jane Smith are married and have two young children. Fred had an accident at work, which ultimately cost him his job, he’s frustrated and takes his anger out on his wife. he drinks too much and begins hitting her. Jane Smith refuses to be in a n abusive relationship and gathers up the children, divorces her husband and moves across the state to be with her sister. In a few short months, even weeks the child has witnessed a work-related accident causing harm to a love one,witnessed physical violence towards a loved one, experienced the divorce of his parents, and moved away from his father, and now attends a new school.

It’s naive to think that this child will ‘buck up’ or be forced to ‘get through it’.


How many children have PTSD?

Studies suggest that approximately 5% of all children between ages 8-12 develop PTSD (8% girls, 2.5% boys) and the percentage increases each year with age. Surprisingly, there have not been any definitive studies completed on prevalence rates of PTSD in younger children in the general population.

The purpose of this blog series is to provide information and suggestions only, not to diagnose or provide permanent treatment solutions to parents. However, the good news is that there are many more trauma related treatment centers, practitioners, and treatment methods now than ever before.

If you know that a child has been through a traumatic experience, or suspect that they might be suffering from PTSD please reach out to a professional for help. Most children who develop PTSD start demonstrating symptoms either immediately after or within a few weeks of the traumatic event.

If you’re right, you can prevent years of pain, frustration, anxiety and unnecessary fear. If you’re wrong, well contrary to popular belief- a short trip to the psychiatrist can’t hurt anyone.