Public Release: 8-Nov-2016
Parents don't notice young children's PTSD -- but may need support themselves
University of East Anglia
Young children may experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) for years without it being recognised by their parents according to new research from the University of East Anglia (UEA).
Researchers investigated how children under 10 experience PTSD weeks, months and years after a traumatic event.
They found that children's suffering is often under-recognised by parents - despite being shaped to a large extent by the parents' own stress in response to the child's trauma.
Lead researcher Dr Richard Meiser-Stedman, from UEA's Norwich Medical School, said: "When people talk about PTSD they often think about soldiers returning from war zones. But children who experience traumatic events such as car accidents, assaults, and natural disasters are also at risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder.
"Symptoms can include traumatic memories and nightmares, avoiding reminders of the trauma, and feeling like the world is very unsafe.
- Children showing signs of stress soon after a trauma will not necessarily go on to suffer PTSD after three years.
- Some children may develop PTSD that persists for years following a trauma - but this is only likely to happen in a minority of cases. Most will 'bounce back' naturally in time.
- Most parents of children still experiencing difficulties after three years did not recognise their child's PTSD. Relying on parent reports of PTSD may therefore be inadequate for identifying chronic patterns in young children.
- Trauma severity was linked with incidence of PTSD up to six months after an accident, but not three years after.
- Child intelligence and age were not linked with incidence of PTSD.
- Children were more likely to suffer PTSD after a trauma if their parents also suffered PTSD - both soon after the event, and even three years afterwards. But even these parents may not spot their child's suffering.