When you think of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, what comes to mind? Most parents think of combat veterans or assault survivors. In reality, up to 5% of American adolescents meet the diagnostic criteria for PTSD.

Do you know what signs to look for in your child? If not, it might be time to pursue a children’s mental health screening.

We realize that bringing your child for a pediatric mental health screening may be nerve-wracking. At Thrive Pediatrics, we seek to take mental health as seriously as physical health. That’s why we’ve created this brief guide to help caregivers decide if an assessment might be an appropriate next step.

Continue reading to learn about common PTSD symptoms in children and how to schedule a compassionate, developmentally appropriate PTSD screening for kids.

1. Reliving Trauma Through Play

Young children process changes and experiences through the language of play. Even typically developing children may process stressful experiences through imaginary games. For example, many children process complex feelings about medical appointments by playing doctor.

Children who have experienced trauma are more likely to revisit their experiences through play. They may act out the stressful event using toys or during dramatic play experiences. It can appear as a motif in various playful activities, including art-making.

2. Unusual Anger

Children are new people, and many of the emotions they feel are occurring for the first time. Sometimes, feelings of fear or anxiety can manifest as anger as kids and teens seek to gain control over an uncontrollable experience.

This anger can manifest as outbursts, which may resemble temper tantrums. Children may throw, break, or damage property. While these experiences can be scary for caregivers, they’re equally frightening for children who don’t yet have the tools to redirect their big emotions.

3. Avoidant Behavior

Like adults, children with PTSD can viscerally relive traumatic memories. These flashbacks are frightening and uncomfortable.

You might notice your child has begun avoiding places, situations, or objects that remind them of the traumatic experience. This may be because they are avoiding PTSD triggers. Sometimes, this avoidant behavior can impact a child’s daily living (for example, if they become afraid of their classroom following an active shooter drill).

4. Constant Vigilance

Following a traumatic experience, some children may become more vigilant. They may look for perceived threats wherever they go. Some children fixate on locating exits or ensuring a triggering person or object is not in the area.

Often, high vigilance causes an exaggerated tendency to startle.

5. Sleep Changes

Children with PTSD have a higher likelihood of experiencing nightmares and sleep disturbances. They may have difficulty falling or staying asleep. Some children wake up throughout the night, impacting their health and normal development.

Furthermore, children who previously slept alone may be unable to sleep without a caregiver. Thus, this symptom can impact the health and well-being of entire families.

Pediatric Mental Health Matters

Young children’s brains go through physical changes every day. If your child is experiencing the effects of PTSD during a sensitive period, it can impact their mental and physical health for life. Something as simple as a painless, play-based children’s mental health screening can transform a traumatized child’s future.

Your child’s PTSD treatment begins at Thrive Pediatrics, the best place to address mental health for kids in Meridian. We’ll address your pediatric mental health concerns from a place of warmth and experience. Register your child as a new patient to start the process today.

Schedule an appointment today!