Diagnosing Traumatic Stress in Children

Many different events can cause traumatic stress in children. These range from a single incident—like a car accident, an assault, or an injury—to a chronic problem, such as child abuse and neglect.

Specialists at the Child Study Center, part of Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital at NYU Langone, have expertise in helping children cope with these issues. Treatment can help to prevent the negative effect of this stress on a child’s health and development.

Most children are resilient to trauma. Although most experience some difficulty within the days or weeks after exposure to a traumatic event, with family support they are able to feel much better relatively quickly. But for a variety of reasons, some children exposed to trauma have ongoing difficulties if they are not provided effective treatment.

Children with traumatic stress develop reactions that persist and affect their daily lives after the traumatic events have ended. Reactions to trauma may include emotional upset, depression or anxiety, behavioral changes, difficulty paying attention at school, nightmares, and trouble sleeping and eating.

Older children and adolescents may also use drugs or alcohol, behave in risky or dangerous ways, or engage in unsafe sexual activity. Children with traumatic stress often demonstrate these symptoms when they are reminded in some way of the trauma.

Specialists at the Child Study Center evaluate children who have experienced symptoms of traumatic stress and manage any related emotional and behavioral difficulties.

During this evaluation, one of our psychologists or psychiatrists meets with you and your child. You are both asked to complete one or more verbal or written questionnaires to help the specialist better understand the nature of the trauma and how it’s affecting your child. The specialist may ask about your child’s symptoms, his or her family and home life, and any changes in his or her behavior or mood.

After the evaluation is complete, the expert schedules an appointment for a feedback session. At this appointment, the specialist reviews his or her findings and discusses treatment options.

Resources for Traumatic Stress in Children
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