Traumatic events can trigger extreme reactions at any age and posttraumatic stress disorder does develop in children and teens. In young people with PTSD, symptoms may differ from those typically experienced by adults with the disorder. Contact a mental health professional if after 1 month in a safe environment following a traumatic event, the child is unable to perform his/her regular daily routine or develops new behavioral or emotional problems.

PTSD Symptoms in Young Children

Signs of PTSD in very young children may include the following:

  • Regressive behavior (e.g., bedwetting in a child who had been using the bathroom during the night, inability to communicate verbally in a child who had been talking)
  • Acting out the traumatic event during play
  • Unusual clinginess to a parent or other adult

PTSD Symptoms in Older Kids & Adolescents

In older children and teens, PTSD symptoms are often similar to those seen in adults. Older kids and young adults may develop behaviors that are disruptive, disrespectful, or destructive. They may have thoughts of revenge and often feel guilty about not being able to prevent the traumatic event or the resulting damage, injuries, or deaths.

If your child or teen experiences any of the following after a traumatic event, contact your health care provider or mental health professional immediately:

  • Flashbacks (reliving the event)
  • Racing heart and sweating
  • Startling easily
  • Emotional numbness
  • Extreme sadness or depression
  • Suicidal thoughts or actions

PTSD Risk in Children

Following a traumatic event, these factors may increase the risk for PTSD in children and teens:

  • Being directly involved in the trauma—especially as a victim
  • Close proximity to and/or prolonged exposure to the event
  • History of prior personal trauma
  • Family or personal history of mental illness or severe behavioral problems
  • Lack of caring family and friends and limited social support
  • Additional or ongoing stress—moving to a new home or new school, family problems like divorce or financial troubles

Source: National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at Healthcommunities.com

Published: 28 May 2014

Last Modified: 13 Feb 2015