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Symptoms Of PTSD Most Prevalent According To Different Age Categories

NOTE: All underlined words and phrases can be clicked on for links to more detailed information.

We have seen in other articles that I have published on this site that severe childhood trauma can lead to us developing serious psychiatric conditions such as borderline personality disorder (BPD) and PTSD.

Symptoms of PTSD/complex differ depending upon the age of the person suffering from it. In this article, I want to focus upon how PTSD can express itself in three specific age groups of young people. These three groups are:

a) the under 5-year-olds

b) children aged 5 to 12 years

c) teenagers

and I list typical symptoms each age group may experience below:

A) Under 5 years:

SEPARATION ANXIETY: this manifests itself through the young child becoming excessively upset when separated from his/her primary carer or another individual with whom s/he has developed a strong emotional bond.

– ANXIOUS BEHAVIOR IN GENERAL: this symptom refers to the young child frequently becoming excessively anxious/nervous/fretful. In some cases, the young child may start to show fear of people s/he was previously comfortable with.

– LOSS OF CURIOSITY / INTEREST: the young child may lose his/her sense of curiosity and lose interest in activities s/he once enjoyed such as playing with toys, going to the park (indeed, in some cases the child may develop a marked reluctance even to leave the house).

– WITHDRAWAL/LACK OF RESPONSIVENESS: the young child may seem to withdraw into him/herself and become less responsive to external stimuli

– RE-ENACTMENT: sometimes the child will re-enact the trauma through play (e.g .with dolls etc.) or through painting and drawing. This tends to mean that they have become mentally fixated upon the traumatic experience which may impair their ability to develop emotionally and socially.

– REGRESSION: developmental problems may even include the young person regressing, in terms of their behavior and functioning, to an earlier stage of development. In other words, they may start to act as if they were significantly younger than their actual chronological age. For example, if they’d reached the age whereby they were feeding themselves, they may revert to wanting to be fed (demonstrating a sudden increase in their level of dependency).

– SIGNIFICANT DISRUPTION OF SLEEP: this may include the child frequently experiencing nightmares and night terrors.

– NEW FEARS: the child may suddenly become fearful of people or situations s/he used to be comfortable with.

B) 6-12 years:


– PSYCHOSOMATIC ACHES AND PAINS: i.e. aches and pains caused by psychological factors such as stress rather than being caused by physical factors.

– PROBLEMS AT SCHOOL: e.g. inattentiveness, lack of concentration and focus, rebellious and confrontational behavior, getting into fights.


C) Teenagers:

IRRATIONAL GUILT AND SELF-BLAME: it is extremely common for children to wrongly blame themselves for the traumatic events they have experienced (e.g. many children falsely believe themselves to be the cause of their parents’ divorce).


NIGHTMARES / NIGHT TERRORS and problems with sleep in general

– AVOIDANCE OF PLACES AND SITUATIONS in which they used to feel safe.

EMOTIONAL AND BEHAVIORAL REGRESSION: i.e. reversion to earlier stages of development in relation to their emotions and behavior (e.g. by having toddler-like tantrums).

– USE OF DRUGS/ALCOHOL in an effort to numb their emotional pain (sometimes referred to as DISSOCIATING.

COMING INTO CONFLICT WITH THE LAW e.g. due to involvement with drugs, shoplifting, fighting/violence, fire starting

DIFFICULTY CONTROLLING EMOTIONS resulting in, for example, increased impulsivity and hostility/aggression



– PROBLEMS AT SCHOOL – as above, but on a bigger/escalating scale

– SELF-ISOLATION/SOCIAL WITHDRAWAL and problems with interpersonal relationships in general, including difficulties forming and maintaining friendships/relationships

– INSECURITY may manifest itself as extreme ‘ clinginess’ in any friendships/relationships that the teenager does manage to form. 

SEVERE MOOD SWINGS – significantly exceeding what one would expect from an ‘average’ teenager

– DEPRESSION – including loss of interest in, and loss of ability to gain pleasure from (sometimes known as ANHEDONIA).




David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).


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