PTSD Signs, Symptoms & Effects In Children

Understanding the signs, symptoms, and effects of PTSD is an important part of the effort to get treatment for a child or adolescent. At Little Creek Behavioral Health in Conway, Arkansas, we’re proud to be a source of information and comprehensive care for young people ages 12-18 who have been struggling with PTSD and other mental health conditions.

Understanding PTSD

Learn about PTSD

Posttraumatic stress disorder, also known as PTSD, is a mental health condition that develops after a child or adolescent witnesses or experiences a traumatic event. Presentations of PTSD may vary, especially in children under the age of 6. Some children and adolescents who are living with PTSD may display fearful reactions, along with emotional and behavioral changes. Other young people who suffer from PTSD may demonstrate depressive symptoms such as disinterest in typical activities and cognitive changes. Some children and adolescents can experience a combination of these symptoms depending on the severity of the condition. 

A child or adolescent may develop PTSD after experiencing a traumatic event, such as physical assault, sexual violence, kidnapping, natural disaster, sudden and major medical incident, or severe car accident. PTSD may also emerge in young people who witnessed any of these traumatic events. Children and adolescents typically suffer from more severe PTSD if they are the victim of intentional violence from familiar people, such as sexual violence from family members. 

Young people who suffer from PTSD may exhibit dissociative symptoms that cause them to feel disconnected from reality. Dissociative symptoms include depersonalization, where a child feels detached from their own body and thoughts, and derealization, where a child perceives the world as distant and unreal. A child may also experience visual and auditory hallucinations that impact how they process reality. 

The complex nature of PTSD makes it vital for children and adolescents to receive personalized services to address the behavioral, emotional, and physical symptoms that have been impacting their lives.


Statistics about PTSD

The National Institute of Mental Health has collected the following information on the prevalence of PTSD in the United States: 

  • About 5% of adolescents were diagnosed with PTSD between 2001 and 2004. 
  • Among these young people, an estimated 1.5% were considered severely impaired. 
  • PTSD is more commonly diagnosed in female adolescents (8%) than in male adolescents (2.3%). 

Causes & Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for PTSD

The leading risk factor for PTSD is exposure to a traumatic event. Children and adolescents who are living with certain genetic tendencies or personality traits may be at an increased risk for developing this condition after experiencing a traumatic situation. While the following factors do not guarantee the development of PTSD, they may increase a young person’s chance of experiencing this condition:  

  • Exposure to a traumatic event with perceived or real threat of injury 
  • Repeated exposure to reminders of the event 
  • Poor coping strategies, either learned from peers or self-taught  
  • Lack of social support prior to and during a traumatic event 
  • Prolonged separation from parents 
  • Family history of mental health conditions 
  • Emotional problems before the age of 6 
  • Receiving blame for experiencing trauma 
  • Having a low IQ 
  • Living in poverty 
  • Being female 

Signs & Symptoms

Symptoms of PTSD

PTSD causes children and adolescents to experience behavioral, physical, and mental symptoms. Your child may be struggling with PTSD if they are experiencing any of the following symptoms for more than one month: 

Behavioral symptoms: 

  • Social withdrawal 
  • Avoiding situations or people that bring up memories of the traumatic event 
  • Not participating in activities that were once enjoyable 
  • Reenacting the traumatic event through play 
  • Demonstrating violent or assaultive behaviors 

Physical symptoms: 

  • Muscle tension 
  • Easily startled or has other exaggerated reactions to loud noises 
  • Difficulty sleeping 

Mental symptoms: 

  • Inability to focus on daily tasks 
  • Recurrent and distressing memories of the traumatic event 
  • Difficulty expressing positive emotions 
  • Fluctuating moods with irritability, fear, guilt, or confusion 
  • Recurrent and distressing dreams about the traumatic event 


Effects of PTSD

Posttraumatic stress disorder can affect a child’s mental processes, physical function, and behavior. If a child or adolescent is struggling with PTSD and does not receive appropriate treatment, this condition can cause adverse effects in many areas of their life. These outcomes can also negatively influence a young person’s quality of life and development. Effects of untreated PTSD include the following: 

  • Impaired ability to establish and maintain relationships 
  • Engaging in risky or self-destructive behaviors 
  • Poor attendance or performance at school 
  • Legal troubles resulting from violence or other reckless behaviors 
  • Substance use, including recreational drugs and alcohol 

While your child may experience many negative effects resulting from posttraumatic stress disorder, it is possible for them to lead a productive life if they receive appropriate care. It is essential to seek a comprehensive care program to address a young person’s unique needs and improve their ability to manage the symptoms of PTSD in a healthy manner. 

Co-Occurring Disorders

Common co-occurring disorders among children and adolescents who have PTSD

Children and adolescents who are suffering from PTSD may also experience other mental health conditions. Some young people turn to substance use in an attempt to relieve the symptoms of PTSD, and this can lead to substance use disorder. The following mental health conditions may co-occur in children and adolescents who are living with posttraumatic stress disorder: 

  • Depression 
  • Bipolar disorder 
  • Oppositional defiant disorder 
  • Anxiety disorders 
  • Conduct disorder 
  • Substance use disorders 
  • Major neurocognitive disorder 

It is in your child’s best interest to receive services that focus on each mental health condition they are living with. At Little Creek Behavioral Health, your child will receive the personalized attention they need to help them manage the effects of posttraumatic stress disorder. 

Marks of Quality Care
  • The Joint Commission (JCAHO) Gold Seal of Approval