Incidence and associations of parental and child posttraumatic stress symptoms in pediatric patients

J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2003 Nov;44(8):1199-207. doi: 10.1111/1469-7610.00201.


Background: Previous studies consistently found remarkable prevalence rates of posttraumatic stress symptoms (PTSS) and posttraumatic stress disorders (PTSD) in pediatric patients and their parents. Findings suggest a significant association between child and parent PTSS. The present study examined, in a sample of pediatric patients with different conditions, incidence rates and determinants of PTSS and PTSD in the patients, and their mothers and fathers. Also, associations of maternal, paternal and child PTSS and PTSD were analyzed.

Method: Two hundred and nine children (aged 6.5-14.5 years) were interviewed 5-6 weeks after an accident or a new diagnosis of cancer or diabetes mellitus type 1 by means of the Child PTSD Reaction Index. Their mothers (n = 180) and fathers (n = 175) were assessed with the Posttraumatic Diagnostic Scale.

Results: Children reported PTSS levels in the mild range. Sixteen percent of the fathers and 23.9% of the mothers met full DSM-IV diagnostic criteria for current PTSD. Type of trauma impacted differently on parents and children. In children, accident-related injury was associated with higher PTSS scores. Conversely, in parents, diagnosis of cancer in their child was associated with more symptoms. Functional status of the child was also found to be an important predictor of PTSS in children and parents. PTSS scores of mothers and fathers were significantly correlated with each other. However, child PTSS were not significantly related to PTSS of mothers and fathers. This was true for total scores as well as for DSM-IV symptom clusters.

Conclusions: There is a need for careful evaluation of PTSS and PTSD in pediatric patients with accidental injuries or sudden onset of severe chronic diseases and in their respective parents. Importantly, children, their mothers, and their fathers should be assessed separately, because a significant association between child and parental PTSS may not exist.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Accidents / psychology
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Child
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Neoplasms / psychology
  • Parents / psychology*
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Distribution
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / epidemiology*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology*
  • Switzerland / epidemiology