A longitudinal investigation of children’s trauma memory characteristics and their relationship with posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms

Rosie McGuire, Rachel Hiller, Anke Ehlers, Pasco Fearon, Richard Meiser-Stedman, Sophie Leuteritz, Sarah Halligan

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While trauma memory characteristics are considered a core predictor of adult PTSD, the literature on child PTSD is limited and inconsistent. We investigated whether children’s trauma memory characteristics predict their posttraumatic stress symptoms (PTSS) at 1 month and 6 months post-trauma. We recruited 126 6-13 year olds who experienced a single-incident trauma that led to attendance at an emergency department. We assessed trauma memory disorganisation and sensory-emotional qualities through both narrative recall and self-report questionnaire, and PTSS at 1-month post-trauma and at 6-month follow-up. We found that, after controlling for age, children’s self-reported trauma memory characteristics were positively associated with their concurrent PTSS, and longitudinally predicted symptoms 6-months later. However, observable trauma memory characteristics coded from children’s narratives were not related to PTSS at any time. This suggests that children’s perceptions of their trauma memories are a more reliable predictor of the development and maintenance of PTSS than the nature of their trauma narrative, which has important implications for clinical practice.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Abnormal Child Psychology
Early online date3 Feb 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 3 Feb 2021


  • trauma
  • memory
  • narrative
  • posttraumatic stress

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