Research has shown that children and adolescents suffering from posttraumatic stress often have negative posttraumatic cognitions such as negative appraisals of the trauma sequel that increase mental health problems. However, little is known about posttraumatic cognitions in young children. The aim of this study was to investigate negative posttraumatic cognitions in 4- to 8-year-old children following maltreatment. We also examined their association with child age and well-being as well as caregiver psychopathology.
The study includes N = 112 caregiver-child dyads with children’s mean age of M = 6.2 (SD = 1.1) years. Children had experienced physical abuse, emotional abuse, neglect, sexual victimization, and/or domestic violence prior to participation. Posttraumatic cognitions were assessed using a short child interview including four items adapted from the Child Posttraumatic Cognitions Inventory (CPTCI; Meiser‐Stedman et al in Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 50(4), 432–440, 2009).
Completion of the interview about posttraumatic cognitions was independent from child’s age. Higher levels of negative posttraumatic cognitions were significantly associated with a higher cumulative maltreatment score (r = .35) and higher scores of posttraumatic stress symptoms (r = .39). There was no significant correlation with parent variables.
These findings indicate that posttraumatic cognitions might be an important diagnostic and treatment target for 4- to 8-year-old children.