Millions of children and teens experience traumatic or upsetting events each year. Luckily most fully recover—physically and mentally.
Here you will learn:
Traumatic events come in many different forms. They may include:
Seeing these things happening to someone else may just be as traumatic as experiencing them directly. For parents, this means having something very serious happen to your child may impact you as well as your child.
Whether or not your child was hurt also isn’t that important to how traumatic an event is - even if your child was not injured they may still be affected psychologically, and even children who are badly hurt can be absolutely fine otherwise.
A trauma may affect your child in several ways. How they react can depend on a number of factors including their age, personality and life experiences so far.
These are symptoms of what we call post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and it is not unusual for children to experience some or all these following a trauma. You may notice some of these symptoms or reactions in your child. If your child goes to school, ask their teacher if they have noticed any changes in their behaviour. You may also recognize some of these reactions in yourself. See our section on Looking after Yourself.
The changes in your child's behaviour following a trauma often depend on their age.
Your child may:
Your child may:
Not all children react in the same way. Your child may:
It is normal for children to suffer some distress, at least to start with, after a trauma. The good news is that for most children these effects are short term. If your child is not back to their usual self after several months, and is struggling to cope, they may need professional support. There is good evidence that, with extra support, children can recover well.
Find out more about how to support your child here, or about how to get professional help here.
Keep an eye out for the signs described. Seek advice from your GP if:
You and your child are the best judges of how they are coping. Because it can be quite normal for children to experience some distress after a trauma, the usual advice is to 'wait and see' for about a month, to see if they get better over time. However, if your child is very upset and this is having a big impact on their daily lives, consider seeking advice from your GP sooner.
Speak to your child. Ask how they feel they are coping after their trauma—and if they would like some extra help.
Yes, after a frightening event, it can take up to six months to recover fully. The main thing is that you are seeing some improvement.
Not necessarily. Many children who are badly injured fully recover mentally and are fine in the long term. There is no good evidence that children who are seriously hurt are any more likely to be distressed than those with less severe injuries. The key is to keep an eye out for changes in your child’s behaviour over time and ask how they are feeling.
The chances are they will. Research shows that most children respond well to talking therapies such as trauma-focused cognitive behavioural therapy.