• What is Child Traumatic Stress ?

    Child traumatic stress is when children and adolescents are exposed to traumatic events or traumatic situations, and when this exposure overwhelms their ability to cope.

    When children have been exposed to situations where they feared for their lives, believed they could have been injured, witnessed violence, or tragically lost a loved one, they may show signs of traumatic stress. The impact on any given child depends partly on the objective danger, partly on his or her subjective reaction to the events, and partly on his or her age and developmental level.

    If your child is experiencing traumatic stress you might notice the following signs:

    • Difficulty sleeping and nightmares
    • Refusing to go to school
    • Lack of appetite
    • Bed-wetting or other regression in behavior
    • Interference with developmental milestones
    • Anger
    • Getting into fights at school or fighting more with siblings
    • Difficulty paying attention to teachers at school and to parents at home
    • Avoidance of scary situations
    • Withdrawal from friends or activities
    • Nervousness or jumpiness
    • Intrusive memories of what happened• Play that includes recreating the event

    What is the best way to treat child traumatic stress?

    There are effective ways to treat child traumatic stress.

    Many treatments include cognitive behavioral principles: 

    • Education about the impact of trauma
    • Helping children and their parents establish or re-establish a sense of safety
    • Techniques for dealing with overwhelming emotional reactions
    • An opportunity to talk about the traumatic experience in a safe, accepting environment
    • Involvement, when possible, of primary caregivers in the healing process

    For more information see the NCTSN website: www.nctsn.org.

    What can I do for my child at home ?

    Parents never want their child to go through trauma or suffer its after effects. 

    Having someone you can talk to about your own feelings will help you to better help your child.

    Follow these steps to help your child at home:

    1. Learn about the common reactions that children 6. Maintain regular home and school routines to support have to traumatic events. the process of recovery, but make sure your child

    continues going to school and stays in school. 2. Consult a qualified mental health professional if your child’s distress continues for several weeks.         7. Be patient. There is no correct timetable for healing. Ask your child’s school for an appropriate referral.       Some children will recover quickly. Other children recover more slowly. Try not to push him or her to “just 3. Assure your child of his or her safety at home and     get over it,” and let him or her know that he or she at school. Talk with him or her about what you’ve       should not feel guilty or bad about any of his or her done to make him or her safe at home and what      feelings. the school is doing to keep students safe.

    Reassure your child that he or she is not responsible. Children may blame themselves for events, even those completely out of their control.

    1. Allow your child to express his or her fears and fantasies verbally or through play. That is a normal part of the recovery process.

    How can I make sure my child receives help at school? 


    If your child is staying home from school, depressed, angry, acting out in class, having difficulty concentrating, not completing homework, or failing tests, there are several ways to get help at school. Talk with your child’s school counselor, social worker, or psychologist. Usually, these professionals understand child traumatic stress and should be able to assist you to obtain help.

    Ask at school about services through Federal legislation including:

    1. Special Education—the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) which, in some schools, includes trauma services; and
    2. Section 504—which protects people from discrimination based on disabilities and may include provisions for services that will help your child in the classroom.

    Check with your school’s psychologist, school counselor, principal, or special education director for information about whether your child might be eligible for help with trauma under IDEA.

    The good news is that there are services that can help your child get better. Knowing who to ask and where to look is the first step.

    This project was funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The views, policies, and opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of SAMHSA or HHS.

    Child Trauma Toolkit for Educators | October 2008

    The National Child Traumatic Stress Network www.NCTSN.org