Ten Common Myths Surrounding PTSD in Children

Myths and Misperceptions shutterstock_208663015Thank you for stopping by for the third installment in Jolene Philo’s series about PTSD in children, also known as childhood developmental trauma. Part 2 in the series provided definitions of trauma, PTSD, and childhood developmental trauma. With that basic understanding of what PTSD in children is, this post looks at what childhood trauma is not by providing a brief look at 10 common myths surrounding PTSD in children.

Myth #1: Only Soldiers Get PTSD

This is probably the most common myth about PTSD in children. But this statement can only be true if war alone causes trauma and if only soldiers are traumatized by war. But since many other events cause trauma and because many civilians living in war zones are traumatized, this myth is obviously untrue.

Myth #2: It’s Not PTSD: It’s Bad Parenting

Kids with PTSD often behave as though they were poorly parenting. And parental neglect or abuse can cause PTSD in children. So we tend generalize and pin the blame for behaviors on parents. But sometimes only one sibling raised in a secure, loving, and nurturing home exhibits disturbing behaviors. This scenario reminds us that while pinning the blame on parents is easy and convenient, doing so perpetuates another myth about PTSD in children.

Myth #3: It’s Not PTSD: It’s Willful Disobedience

Like the second myth, this one is based upon pinning the blame on someone–in this case on the child. Once again, the behaviors of kids with PTSD look a lot like willful disobedience or naughtiness. But traumatized children are not deliberately choosing to be naughty. Their behavior is an automatic survival response to something in their environment that triggers a traumatic memory. When that happens, they do whatever it takes to get away from whatever triggered their fear.

Myth #4: It’s Not PTSD: It’s Sin

This myth adds a faith-based spin to the previous one. PTSD behaviors look a lot like willful sin behaviors. But children with PTSD are not deliberately choosing to sin. As was mentioned before, their response is not a rational choice, but an irrational fear response to a perceived threat.

Myth #5: Kids Don’t Remember What Happened When They Were Babies

In fact children, and adults for that matter, do remember what happened when they were babies. But they remember pre-verbal events, from birth to about age 3, as implicit rather than as explicit memories. Implicit memories are stored as emotions, bodily sensations, behaviors, and perceptual interpretations. Explicit memory is what most people think of as memory. Explicit memories, the episodic movies of our lives, begin to kick in around age 2. But implicit memories–both good and bad–are present from birth and help build the foundation of a person’s sense of security…or lack of it.

Myth #6: Children Are Resilient

The truth is that some children are resilient and some aren’t. Exactly why some kids are resilient and others aren’t is the million dollar question waiting to be answered. But one thing is already known. Children can’t be resilient on their own. Those who have a loving, secure, primary caregiver early on are much more likely to be resilient than those who don’t.

Myth #7: Children Aren’t Traumatized by Indirect or Observed Trauma

Recent research has made short work of this myth. It has shown that children who watch extensive and explicit media coverage of traumatic events are more likely to be traumatized by it. And children who are firsthand observers of trauma such as war, domestic abuse, and shootings are at risk of developing trauma.

Myth #8: Newborns Don’t Feel Pain

Before 1986 the medical community believed that the nervous systems of newborns weren’t developed enough to feel pain. Therefore newborns and NICU infants received no pain medication during surgery or recovery, though they were given paralytic drugs so infants to keep them immobile during surgery. Research in the early 1980s disproved this misconception. Pain medication is now given to infants undergoing invasive surgery and procedures. But pockets of ignorance remain. Some practitioners still tell parents that newborns don’t feel pain and therefore need no pain medication for minor surgeries and procedures.

Myth #9: An Unborn Child Can’t Experience Trauma

Research studies are now showing that babies of mothers who have experience trauma during pregnancy have higher levels of stress hormones in their blood than do babies of mothers who didn’t experience trauma. Also mothers who developed PTSD during pregnancy are more likely pass on a biological marker to their children that makes it much more likely the kids will develop PTSD later in life.

Myth #10: Traumatized Children Are Irreparably Damaged

Thankfully, this statement is also a myth. Childhood developmental trauma can be treated effectively. Many therapies exist to treat children as young as age 3 overcome and manage their PTSD.

Debunking that last myth should give hope to parents who suspect their children have PTSD. Future installments in this series will discuss effective therapies and treatment models for children. So please come back to learn more about PTSD in children and how to help kids overcome it.


Does My Child Have PTSD?Author Jolene Philo was always told that “”babies don’t feel any pain”” and that her son would not remember the traumatic surgeries and hospital visits he endured as a young child. However, research has shown that when childen experience medical illness, witness violence, or are abused, it can leave a lasting effect. According to recent studies, fifty to sixty percent of children who experience these traumas early in life may suffer from a form of PTSD, leading to issues in childhood, through adolescence, and even into adulthood. Does My Child Have PTSD? is designed for readers looking for answers about the puzzling, disturbing behaviors of childen in their care. With years of research and personal expererience, Philo provides critical information to help people understand causes, symptoms, prevention, and effective diagnosis, treatment, and care for any child struggling with PTSD. Available for pre-order at Amazon.

About Dr. G

Dr. Stephen Grcevich serves as President and Founder of Key Ministry, a non-profit organization providing free training, consultation, resources and support to help churches serve families of children with disabilities. Dr. Grcevich is a graduate of Northeastern Ohio Medical University (NEOMED), trained in General Psychiatry at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation and in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at University Hospitals of Cleveland/Case Western Reserve University. He is a faculty member in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at two medical schools, leads a group practice in suburban Cleveland (Family Center by the Falls), and continues to be involved in research evaluating the safety and effectiveness of medications prescribed to children for ADHD, anxiety and depression. He is a past recipient of the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Dr. Grcevich was recently recognized by Sharecare as one of the top ten online influencers in children’s mental health. His blog for Key Ministry, www.church4everychild.org was ranked fourth among the top 100 children's ministry blogs in 2015 by Ministry to Children.
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3 Responses to Ten Common Myths Surrounding PTSD in Children

  1. Thank you for this excellent post on PTSD in children. So often parents are judged by people who don’t understand the impact of early trauma; this is a heavy weight to to bear. I plan to share your post.


  2. Pingback: Special Book Offer for PTSD Awareness Month | Different Dream – Medics Online

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