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.

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