Doctor: Here’s my advice to parents navigating youth PTSD

Posted 6/21/22

PTSD stands for post-traumatic stress disorder.

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Doctor: Here’s my advice to parents navigating youth PTSD


PTSD stands for post-traumatic stress disorder.

All ages can experience exposure to trauma — such as physical or sexual harm, experiencing threat of death, witnessing horrific events, car accidents, seeing loved ones harmed/abused, and psychological abuse that can encompass verbal and emotional abuse as well as neglect in children.

These events can initiate PTSD. After experiencing trauma, your child may experience sadness or irritability, flashbacks, feeling on edge, experience trouble sleeping and more. These symptoms of PTSD can occur for a long stretch of time or come and go throughout your child’s life.

Warning signs of trauma

A major sign of trauma is when a child is experiencing symptoms of depression such as sadness and/or a difficulty experiencing happiness or other positive emotions. The child could have an increase in irritable behavior and angry outburst with little provocation. The outbursts can be verbal or physical. They may appear to be on guard and hypervigilant.

Other symptoms include:

  • Somatic physical symptoms i.e., headaches and/or stomach aches.
  • Nightmares and difficulty sleeping and eating.
  • Older children and adolescents can experience more complex PTSD symptoms including dissociative episodes like flashbacks and dissociative/disconnected symptoms such as depersonalization and derealization.

Something to remember is that kids may feel shame, guilt, and fear. They may have negative thoughts about themselves and may eventually start to blame themselves. Depending on the age of the child at the time of the trauma, the frequency of the traumatic event and how well they know the assailant, it may be difficult to tell somebody what has happened for fear of being judged. Their aggression is a way to regain some control over their environment. It may be replaying the trauma.

How to talk to children

Parents should not take on the role of a therapist. The child’s biggest fear is to be judged for an event that they had no control over. Parents in turn may struggle with their own guilt to solve their own child’s problems. How parents talk to their child should be guided by the child’s therapist according to the context of the trauma.

It is important that parents understand their child’s triggers or cues that remind them of the trauma and can create a safe space. Regulating tone of voice and volume in the home can help minimize a child’s anxiety.

Follow the child’s lead, provide a listening ear, and reassure them they are safe now. Reassure them it’s okay to have their feelings. If children have questions, answer only exactly what is asked. Don’t pressure them to discuss it, when they’re ready, they will bring it up.

Advice to parents

Minimize judgment, maintain safety at home and spend quality time. When the child escalates, practice taking the one down approach, try not to react to your child’s emotional dysregulation.

Remember that as a parent you are always modeling your responses. Create a safe space where the child can go to deescalate.

Talk about the trigger and dysregulated response after the child has calmed down but close in time to the incident when it occurred.

Parents should seek out their own support systems such as another caregiver and/or friend to help hold their emotional responses to the child’s trauma, this allows the parent to be present and calm and responsive to the child’s needs.

About Arizona’s Children Association

For 110 years, Arizona’s Children Association (has stayed true to “Protecting Children, Empowering Youth, Strengthening Families,” serving more than 40,000 children, individuals, and families in all 15 counties each year. It is one of the oldest and largest statewide child welfare and behavioral health nonprofit agencies in Arizona.

Learn more at www.ArizonasChildren.org.

Editor’ note: Dr. Ramiz Audi is medical director for Arizona’s Children Association.


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