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How to Prepare a Child Suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder for School

written by: Stephanie Torreno • edited by: Daniel P. McGoldrick • updated: 10/10/2010

Children may experience a traumatic event at home or at school, and this trauma can leave physical and emotional scars. Parents and teachers must be prepared to help children cope with these effects. Reading this article about post traumatic stress disorder in schools will assist them in doing that.

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    Children with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

    Any type of traumatic event can be devastating for an individual of any age. Children are particularly vulnerable to the lasting effects of witnessing or experiencing physical abuse, sexual abuse, violence at home or at school, or natural disasters. These effects often lead to post traumatic stress disorder, or intense emotional distress lasting well after the event. Children with post traumatic stress disorder relive the trauma by remembering the event, experiencing intrusive thoughts in which part or all of the trauma is constantly repeated. Additionally, children with this disorder may act or feel as if the event is reoccurring, develop repeated physical or emotional symptoms when reminded of the event, and have frequent nightmares.

    Other symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder in children include:

    • Separation anxiety, clinginess, or reluctance to return to school;
    • Flashbacks about the event;
    • Loss of interest in activities;
    • Physical symptoms (headaches and stomachaches);
    • Behavioral disturbances;
    • Problems with concentration;
    • Problems falling or staying asleep;
    • Irritability or angry outbursts;
    • Increased alertness to the environment, and;
    • Continual behavior and thoughts reminding them of the event.
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    Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in Schools

    Parents and teachers can most help traumatized children by following a structure and giving them some sense of control. Immediately after the trauma, children should be given accurate and specific information concerning their immediate safety. Adults need to acknowledge what has occurred and discuss what will happen to them next. Children should be encouraged to share their experience, but some may not be ready or willing to talk. Playing out the traumatic event, or drawing or writing about it can serve as different ways of communicating.

    At home or at school, survival skills for emergencies should be taught to assist children in regaining personal control and increasing the potential for a positive outcome. Children need to know how to:

    • Follow directions in an emergency (remaining in the classroom during a lockdown).
    • Dial 911 or get assistance in any type of emergency.
    • Report specific and dangerous circumstances.
    • Tell someone "no" and mean it.
    • Recognize the difference better right and wrong (appropriate vs. inappropriate touching, appropriate vs. inappropriate sharing of information, presence of appropriate vs. inappropriate people).

    Teachers can support children with post traumatic stress disorder in schools by watching for signs and symptoms of it. After a child is diagnosed with the disorder by a mental health professional, educators should:

    • Discourage avoidance of the event;
    • Discuss the child’s feelings in a compassionate manner;
    • Encourage the child’s normal activities;
    • Assist the child in regaining a sense of control of his or her life; and
    • Seek help from the school psychologist.

    Informed parents and teachers can make the difference in avoiding lifelong physical and emotional difficulties related to post traumatic stress disorder. While professional treatment is required to cope with this disorder, parents and educators must help a child move past the trauma’s effects and lead a healthy life.


    American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. (1999). Posttraumatic stress disorder (ptsd). Retrieved October 7, 2010, from

    Grosse, S.J. (2001). Children and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: What Classroom Teachers Should Know. ERIC Digest. Retrieved October 7, 2010, from