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Trauma and PTSD

Children and young people are sometimes involved in, or witness, events they find very stressful, frightening or distressing. Examples of these are road accidents, crimes, fires and floods.

Following incidents like this, your child or young person might experience distress that effects how they think, feel and behave. This is a natural response and is a sign that your child or young person is processing and making sense of what has occurred. It will usually resolve itself in the weeks following the traumatic event.

Occasionally, however, some young people continue to have problems for longer than expected. If this is the case, it’s possible they’re experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

There are a wide range of PTSD symptoms, including:

  • Trouble sleeping
  • Nightmares
  • Vivid memories
  • Flashbacks (feeling that the traumatic event is happening again)
  • Getting angry and upset easily
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Clinginess
  • Jumpiness and hypervigilance (being very watchful and aware of what’s going on around them)
  • Not wanting to think or talk about what happened
  • Avoiding reminders of the event
  • Tummy aches, headaches and other physical complaints
  • Behaving like a younger child, for example, bed wetting and thumb sucking
  • Irritability or disobedient behaviour
  • Problems at school

After a frightening or traumatic event, children and young people want life to return to normal and might want to avoid talking about what occurred. However, this isn’t always helpful as they need the time and opportunity to work it through and make sense of what has happened. Talking things through, with someone that they trust, can help them make sense of the event, feel less alone and more in control, and help them to adjust.

You can help by

  • Accepting they’re going to be distressed and this is a normal reaction, try to offer extra support and patience at this time
  • Sharing with them when you’re feeling sad and upset so they can see that these feelings are normal and that they pass, but let them know that they don’t need to look after you
  • Keeping to your usual routines as much as possible
  • Letting them talk about the event as and when they want to without their feeling pressured, be available to talk when they ready and accept that it might be in short ‘bursts’
  • Providing opportunities for them to act out what occurred through games, drawing or other play and craft activities
  • Helping them make sense of what happened by providing an honest explanation suitable for their age, aim to answer any questions truthfully, including helping them understand about death, if this is relevant.
  • Taking care of yourself. If you were involved in the event, or are distressed by what occurred, this can make it harder to support your child or young person. It can be helpful for you to talk with another adult or seek professional support.

Parents are sometimes unsure how long to wait before seeking help. A good guideline is if your child or young person is still upset and experiencing the types of symptoms outlined above a month, or longer, after the event occurred, it could be helpful to visit your GP (especially if they’re getting worse or it’s interfering in daily life).

Your GP will be able to advise you about available support, and might refer your child to our Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services’ (CAMHS)

You can find more additional help online by visiting: