What Are the Symptoms of PTSD in Children?

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  • Written By: Autumn Rivers
  • Edited By: Angela B.
  • Last Modified Date: 24 October 2019
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Children may develop post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in response to experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. This may include sexual abuse, domestic violence or a tragic accident, because such events may leave a lasting impression a young person. Among the most common symptoms of PTSD in children are negative emotions as a result of the event. This may result in unpleasant behavior, such as getting into trouble at school, and a lack of interest in activities. In addition, some children feel sick frequently after enduring a tragic event, and they may get frequent headaches or stomach aches.

Many of the symptoms of PTSD in children involve unpleasant feelings regarding the event. For example, children may replay the trauma in their head, leading to nightmares and an unwillingness to visit the place where the event occurred. They also may feel scared, anxious or angry much of the time, which can result in an overall pessimistic outlook on life. Children with PTSD may think about death often, leading them to assume they will die soon or to frequently predict that tragic events will soon occur. Other symptoms of PTSD in children that involve their feelings about the event include guilt, shame and low self-esteem, in general.


While the feelings of affected children are not always obvious to others, their behavior usually is. For instance, children may seem to stop caring about most things shortly after the event, which means some common symptoms of PTSD in children include doing badly in school and avoiding activities that used to interest them. They also may act nervous or even paranoid much of the time. In addition, depending on the nature of the distressing event, some children re-enact the event or mimic the behavior with other people, such as after sexual abuse. Many children seem overemotional because of PTSD, and they may become upset quite easily and resort to behaviors that they outgrew years ago, such as sucking their thumb or wetting the bed.

There also are some physical symptoms of PTSD in children, though they are not necessarily attributed to this disorder because they are usually common ailments. Some children suffer from frequent headaches as a result of having experienced or witnessed trauma. They also may complain of an upset stomach quite often, because negative feelings tend to manifest themselves as physical ailments for many people. Additionally, some people notice that PTSD causes an increase in symptoms of other disorders, such as depression, eating disorders and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).


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