Symptoms of post-traumatic stress in children can sometimes go unnoticed, not easily recognized by adults.


  • Feelings of helplessness, uncertainty; renewed separation anxiety
  • Fear may move into other aspects of life
  • May regress developmentally
  • Nightmares, fear of going to sleep

Parents can:

  • Provide comfort, rest and opportunities to play or draw
  • Provide reassurance that the trauma is over and child is safe
  • Help children verbalize feelings
  • Provide consistent caretaking
  • Inform children of parents’ whereabouts for sense of security

School age

  • Guilt or shame over what they did or didn’t do during the disaster
  • Constant retelling of the traumatic event
  • Sleep disturbances, fear of sleeping alone, nightmares
  • Poor concentration at school
  • Drop in school performance or attendance
  • Headaches and stomachaches with no obvious cause
  • Unusually reckless or aggressive behavior

Parents can:

  • Encourage children to express fears, sadness and anger in supportive environment of the family
  • Acknowledge that their feelings are normal
  • Correct any distortions of the events that they express


  • Feelings of fear, vulnerability and concern with being labeled “abnormal” or different from peers may cause withdrawal
  • Shame and guilt about the event
  • Fantasies of revenge and retribution
  • May engage in self-destructive or accident-prone behavior

Parents can:

  • Discuss the possible strain on relationships with family and peers and offer support with those challenges
  • Discuss acting out behavior and thoughts of revenge and help formulate constructive alternatives that lessen the sense of helplessness

Source: The National Child Traumatic Stress Network