Treatment For PTSD in Children is Just as Important as it is For Adults

When people hear about someone with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), they may first imagine an adult who was involved in a violent crime, witnessed a violent act, or was a soldier who had spent time in a dangerous war zone. But children have also been diagnosed with PTSD.

Research has shown that children develop PTSD from some of the same things as adults: witnessing violent crime, war, natural disasters, and sexual abuse. More recent studies show that children can also develop PTSD from long term trauma like the death of a parent or loved one.

Rene Searles McClatchey, of the University of Georgia, was the lead author on a PTSD report on children that was published in the journal Research on Social Work Practice. McClatchey stressed that children who had symptoms of PTSD were given grief therapy, but not therapy like adults were getting. McClatchey, a professor in the university’s School of Social Work, said that the grief therapy left them recalling their loss and then had them leaving sessions without any coping mechanisms that PTSD treatment would have provided.

Symptoms of PTSD

Main symptoms of PTSD include flashback memories of the trauma, avoidance of places, people, and situations that remind them of the trauma, indifference in emotional responsiveness, difficulty sleeping, and a strong feeling of caution in circumstances.

Children experience many of the same symptoms, but also exhibit some of their own symptoms characteristic to their age. Some of these symptoms include:

  • Flashbacks mostly through repetitive play with trauma-related themes
  • Nightmares
  • Regression
  • Development of new fears or reappearance of old ones
  • Separation anxiety
  • Stomach aches
  • Headaches
  • Hyperactivity
  • Impulsiveness
  • Distraction
  • Depression

Many assessment tools and interviews have been created specifically to diagnose PTSD in children.

Camp Magik

McClatchey conducted her research on the camp she founded for children who suffer from PTSD. Camp Magik provides weekend camps that combine favorite outdoor activities like hiking and canoeing with therapy sessions. After studying a group of 100 children, she said that children who did not attend the camp and its therapy sessions had a 4.5 times higher rate of experiencing severe PTSD. They also had a 3.6 times higher rate for experiencing severe grief. McClatchey says that her camp helps children process their grief so that they can let go of their fears and resume their usual activities.

PTSD Treatment

Researchers agree that parents/guardians should be included in child’s PTSD treatment. Specific treatment therapies in children include the following:

  • Children are encouraged to talk about their loss as many times as they want until they begin losing fearful and guilty feelings
  • Children are encouraged to write their thoughts and feelings out
  • Child and therapist reread child’s writings to help them take control of overwhelming feelings

Magik Testimonials

Most of the previous studies on PTSD in children were of those whose parent had died suddenly and violently. It had not been studied in those whose parents died from a long illness such as cancer. McClatchey sees the need in treating children in all of these situations that develop into PTSD. She says that her statistics show the need for children to not only receive grief therapy, but specific coping strategies for PTSD, too. Treatment for children with PTSD should be patterned for children and allow them to talk, write, or read about it and provide coping mechanisms to help them remember the joy of childhood.