Children who are exposed to traumatic events are more likely to develop
post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) if their parents suffer from PTSD as well,
even if the child’s traumatic experience is unrelated to the parents’. So say
researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, who recently published their
findings in the Journal of Depression & Anxiety.
Headed by Prof.
Danit Shahar and Prof. Drora Fraser, the researchers from the Beersheba
university’s department of epidemiology and health services evaluation were
studying the nutrition habits of Beersheba preschool children in 2008. During
the study, Operation Cast Lead began, and families they were evaluating were
exposed to ongoing Grad missile attacks from the Gaza Strip.
Kaufman-Shriqui, who was conducting the research as part of her doctoral thesis,
spoke with the preschool psychiatric unit at Soroka University Medical Center
and, in collaboration with Dr. Michal Faroy and Dr.
Gal Meiri, broadened
her study to include the children’s mental state as well.
collaborating on the study was the Association for Planning and Development of
Services for Children and Youth at Risk and their Families, American Jewish
Joint Distribution Committee (ASHALIM-JDC).
The researchers examined the
relationship between post-traumatic symptoms, and socio-demographic and family
variables (such as family size or socioeconomic status), as well as
psychosomatic symptoms among children who were exposed to Grad missile attacks
in the city during Operation Cast Lead, which lasted from the end of December
2008 to January 2009. They interviewed 160 mothers of preschool children (aged
four to six-and-a-half) about post-traumatic and psychosomatic symptoms their
children experienced, as well as about the mothers’ own response to the
The results showed that 8.4 percent of mothers and 21% of children
were suffering substantially from PTSD symptoms.
In adults, PTSD symptoms
include intrusive, upsetting memories of the event; flashbacks; nightmares;
feelings of intense distress when reminded of the trauma; and intense physical
reactions to reminders of the event, such as a pounding heart, rapid breathing,
nausea, muscle tension and sweating.
The symptoms are somewhat different
in school-aged children, who may not have flashbacks or problems remembering
parts of the trauma, the way adults with PTSD often do. However, children might
put the events of the trauma in the wrong order. They might also think there
were signs that the trauma was going to happen, and therefore think they will
see these signs again before another trauma occurs.
Children this age
might also show signs of PTSD in their play, such as repeating a part of the
trauma. For example, a child might always want to play shooting games after he
sees a school shooting. However, these games do not make their worry and
distress go away. Children may also fit parts of the trauma into their daily
In teens, some PTSD symptoms resemble those of adults. One
difference is that teens are more likely than younger children or adults to show
impulsive and aggressive behaviors.
The researchers found that there was
no correlation between particular socio-demographic variables and a diagnosis of
The only risk factor that did correlate with a
diagnosis of PTSD in children was having a mother who also suffered from these
symptoms. Children who developed PTSD symptoms also had more psychosomatic
complaints, such as constipation, diarrhea and headaches.
bolsters the existing body of knowledge regarding the importance of evaluating
and treating parental responses in times of stress, the authors said. Parents
are often the key to understanding children’s responses generally and
specifically during such times.
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