From the National Institute of Mental Health. This information is in
the public domain.
Reactions to trauma may appear immediately after the traumatic event or days
and even weeks later. Loss of trust in adults and fear of the event
occurring again are responses seen in many children and adolescents who have
been exposed to traumatic events. Other reactions vary according to age:
For children 5 years of age and younger, typical reactions can
include a fear of being separated from the parent, crying, whimpering, screaming,
immobility and/or aimless motion, trembling, frightened facial expressions and
excessive clinging. Parents may also notice children returning to
behaviors exhibited at earlier agess (these are called regressive behaviors),
such as thumb-sucking, bedwetting, and fear of darkness. Children in this age bracket
tend to be strongly affected by the parents' reactions to the traumatic event.
Children 6 to 11 years old may show extreme withdrawal, disruptive
behavior, and/or inability to pay attention. Regressive behaviors,
nightmares, sleep problems, irrational fears, irritability, refusal to attend
school, outbursts of anger and fighting are also common in traumatized children
of this age. Also the child may complain of stomachaches or other bodily
symptoms that have no medical basis. Schoolwork often suffers.
Depression, anxiety, feelings of guilt and emotional numbing or "flatness" are
often present as well.
Adolescents 12 to 17 years old may exhibit responses similar to those
of adults, including flashbacks, nightmares, emotional numbing, avoidance of any
reminders of the traumatic event, depression, substance abuse, problems with
peers, and antisocial behavior. Also common are withdrawal and isolation,
physical complaints, suicidal thoughts, school avoidance, academic decline,
sleep disturbances, and confusion. The adolescent may feel extreme guilt
over his or her failure to prevent injury or loss of life, and may harbor
revenge fantasies that interfere with recovery from the trauma.
Some youngsters are more vulnerable to the effects of trauma than others, for
reasons scientists do not fully understand. It has been shown that the
impact of a traumatic event is likely to be greatest in the child or adolescent
who previously has been the victim of child abuse or some other form of trauma,
or who already had a mental health problem. In addition,
the youngster who lacks family support is more at risk for a poor recovery.
Source: NIH Publication No. 01-3518, Reprinted September 2001.