Ask the Expert: Helping children with PTSD

It is normal for children to experience symptoms of PTSD in the first weeks following a trauma.

Q: "A few weeks ago my 10-year-old daughter was slightly hurt in a car crash in which other people were seriously injured. Since then she's been having nightmares and flashbacks, and is scared to go in a car. Does she need professional help?"

A: Dr Richard Meiser-Stedman, a clinical psychologist at the University of East Anglia, who has just led a study into post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in children, says: "Thank you for taking your daughter's reaction seriously – children's feelings in response to these sorts of events can be too readily swept under the carpet in an effort to 'get back to normal'.

"It's important to stress just how normal it is for children to experience symptoms of PTSD in the first weeks following a trauma. If anything, our recent research suggests it's more common to have core symptoms of PTSD than not, in the first two to four weeks following a traumatic incident like a car crash.

"In many cases we found that significant reactions – even the very disturbing re-experiencing and avoidance difficulties you've reported your daughter as having - may resolve without any formal help.

"However, a significant minority – perhaps 10 to 15 per cent of children – will find their reactions don't subside by two to three months post-trauma.

"At this point it's certainly appropriate to seek professional help. A psychological therapy such as trauma-focused cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) has good support and would be the indicated treatment for your daughter."

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