Traumatic stress occurs in children when their coping mechanisms are overwhelmed by exposure to traumatic events or situations. Estimates indicate that as many as 80% of ill and injured children experience traumatic stress after such exposure. Critically ill or injured children are especially at risk for the development of traumatic stress, including acute stress reaction and posttraumatic stress disorder.
To explore the phenomenon of traumatic stress disorders in critically ill or injured children to assist bedside nurses in decreasing the severity of short- and long-term consequences in this patient population.
This article presents types of traumatic stress, risk factors for the development of traumatic stress, clinical findings in children and adolescents, and nursing strategies for preventing and managing traumatic stress in pediatric patients. Critical care and acute care nurses are in an excellent position to assess children for symptoms of acute stress reaction and posttraumatic stress disorder during or after a stay in the intensive care unit, to implement strategies to prevent or ease the symptoms of acute stress reaction and posttraumatic stress disorder, and to make appropriate referrals for children and their families after exposure to traumatic stressors.