Any major unpleasant event is bound to leave its mark on a child. The stress a child undergoes and the accompanying symptoms result in a disorder called post traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. The symptoms manifest themselves usually within three months of the trauma and may continue for years. However there is no hard and fast rule and the symptoms may appear any time in life especially if some other event triggers the memories of the first traumatic happening.
The symptoms of PTSD resemble those of stress and depression. If they last for more than a month after the event they may affect a child physically. He may become irritated over small matters and can get angry easily. A smell, or a similar building or scenery may trigger anxiety and nervousness. The child will fail to concentrate on his work or pay attention to what his teacher is saying. When someone calls him he will be startled. His sleep pattern will be disturbed too. He will find it difficult to fall asleep and then will wake often, not getting sound sleep.
The child may suffer on a physiological level, experiencing the event again. He may have nightmares in which he may find himself trapped or helpless. His thoughts may turn repeatedly to the trauma. It may seem to him as if he is reliving the entire event again. If anyone talks about it in his presence, he gets frightened and distressed. His demeanour is edgy and anxious.
Because the child is affected so deeply, he tries to avoid anything concerning the event. He does not like to answer any questions about it and stays away from places and people that remind him of it. At times his mind may go blank or he may not have registered some aspect of the event. He may keep a tight leash on his emotions, not sharing them with others and may feel detached from them. He keeps to himself and does not want to participate in activities which remind him of what he has been through. He may develop a pessimistic view and feel that he may not live long.
Parents have to come forward and help their child climb out of this emotional pit with love and understanding. If necessary seek the help of a qualified therapist. Some ways in which the parents can help are:
- A child will take some time to go back to normal after a traumatic event so allow him that space. Keep a watch on him and tell him that you are there near him.
- Do not insist that he should talk about that event. Take your cue from the child and discuss it only when he is ready and willing. Encourage and praise your child for having come through the difficult time.
- Assure your child that he is in no way responsible for what happened. Assuage his feelings of guilt so that he does not blame himself for the mishap.
- Tell the child that whatever he is feeling is a normal reaction and that you support him fully.
- Involve your child in decision making in small things at home. Let him decide what the family should do on the weekend or what you should order at a restaurant. This will build his confidence and he will start to feel important and appreciated.
- Do not belittle or scold a child if he wants to sleep with the lights on or wants someone around him all the time if it makes him feel better.
- If there are support groups for trauma survivors near your home take your child there. He will cope better, learning from and talking to others who have been in the same situation.
- Alert his teacher, baby sitter and relatives that the child has been through a difficult situation so that they are sensitive to his feelings.
- If you think that your child is thinking of suicide, take it seriously and get professional help immediately, no matter what the age of the child is.
- You have to be strong and patient in order to help your child. Support from parents is of paramount importance in trying times.