One of the hardest things about life, especially when we’re young, is that stuff frequently just happens to us. We learn pretty quickly that there are just some things that aren’t within our control. Unfortunately, in some cases, this can lead to lasting trauma.
Although life has been pretty darn good for me lately, I’m not a stranger to trauma. When I was 5 years old, my hometown was struck by an F4 tornado. Miraculously, our house was one of few in its direct path that wasn’t destroyed, but that did not eliminate the impact it had on my young mind. For months, any rainfall had me on the floor in a ball. I would spend a lot of energy worrying whether my family was okay whenever I went to kindergarten.
Thankfully, my parents and siblings understood. They were traumatized and displaced, too. Many of our friends were in the same boat. So as we and our neighbors repaired and rebuilt our homes, we slowly were able to repair and rebuild our minds as well. I still get a little nervous during bigger storms, but that support was crucial. I was lucky. I can function.
As it turns out, roughly 1 in every 25 teens suffer from mild to severe Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It may have been caused by a recent event or something that occurred earlier in their childhood, but whatever the case, it can have a real and lasting impact.
Children can manifest their PTSD much differently than adults. Keep an eye out for
Of course, other symptoms found in teens and adults like anxiety, depression, being withdrawn, and feelings of guilt over the event may also be present. It’s important to stay vigilant; children can be affected by unaddressed trauma for a very long time. If your child isn’t him- or herself, don’t ignore it.
You may already know that your daughter, son, younger sibling, or grandchild has PTSD. Thankfully, there are ways you can help.
When I was dealing with the tornado experience, my dad taught me to yell at the thunder. If it’s being so loud and scaring you, he said, all you have to do is scare it back! Eventually it’ll get quiet and go away.
While yelling at your trigger might not always be the most effective coping mechanism, facing and recognizing the non-immediate nature of a perceived threat can be. It will be different for every child. Some may need therapy. Others may need medications. But just about everyone can benefit from a kind word, an understanding look, and listening ears.
Be understanding. Don’t just tell your kid to suck it up; hug them! Love and encourage and lift them. It may make all the difference. Your compassion just might be the key to healing them.
Children are hopeful, trusting creatures. In fact, some with chronic, terminal illnesses have been known to survive longer than their adult counterparts simply because they believe more fully that they will get better. In helping them overcome a traumatic experience, please take advantage of that. It will help.
As with any mental health issue, the most important thing is to recognize that the effect isn’t contrived. You will be able to tell if your child is just vying for attention. Left untreated, childhood traumas can lead to lifelong battles with anxiety and depression. With your support, however, not only can those effects be greatly reduced or even eliminated, but it will have a great and positive impact on your relationship with your child for years to come.
Daniel Moster is an office/IT intern at Noetic Psychiatry, who also occasionally moonlights as a writer, mandolin player, and student of Family Life at Brigham Young University. In his free time, he enjoys collecting hobbies, eating sugary foods, and spending time with his beautiful wife.