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Mental Health Center

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Violence at Home Can Trigger Symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Children


Other symptoms that may point to PTSD are repeated nightmares that have no specific content; distress at being exposed to things that remind the patient of the traumatic event, accompanied by shaking or sweating; and avoidance of these reminders.

McCloskey and her colleagues studied children living in the Southwest. Those selected were children of battered women and had been exposed to severe and chronic acts of violence in the home. "We interviewed all of the children, including a comparison group or control group who weren't exposed to domestic violence about stressful and traumatic events that had occurred to them recently," she explains.

The children were between the ages of 6 and 12. They were asked to tell about something that scared them to the point they feared they or someone else would get hurt. Mothers were also interviewed and both were given questionnaires about other psychiatric symptoms.

The traumatic events reported were domestic violence (40%), violent crime (16%), accidents (36%), and death or illness of a family member or close friend (8%). The accidents included 61% automobile and 39% drowning. Eighty-seven percent of the children reporting traumatic events were witnesses only, 10% were targets, and 3% were both.

According to McCloskey, understanding the child's environment as well as a specific cause of the post traumatic stress will help the child fully recover.

Vital Information:

  • Children who are from violent homes or who are the target of violence may exhibit symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  • Parents should try to be aware if their children are targets or witnesses of violence, because often, the children will not tell their parents.
  • Even young babies who witness violence can be affected, and will begin to re-enact what they observed when they get older.
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