5 things to know about Trauma in kids
When children are exposed to trauma, they usually look to their parents or caregivers for reassurance. These adults provide security and stability to help reassure their children of their love and support. A traumatized child will obviously affect the parents and cause pain for them also.
Parents do not normally have an understanding of the effects of trauma in kids. But, they can increase their understanding of trauma to help support their child’s healing, keep a good relationship with the child, and also help the whole family.
For more information about Trauma, visit our Trauma Page.
Here are five things to know about Trauma in kids:
1. What Trauma Is
Trauma is emotional stress caused by an intense event that causes harm or threatens a person physically or emotionally. It can be caused by a single event or can result from exposure to multiple events over time.
Traumatic events may include:
- Neglect – needs not met – food, clothing, warm shelter
- Abuse (emotional, physical or sexual)
- Separation from loved ones (through death, divorce, or legal issues)
- Witnessing domestic or community violence
- Accidents or natural disasters
- Witness unpredictable caretaker behavior caused by mental illness or addiction
2. The Impact of Trauma on Kids
Children are normally resilient and experience some stress every day as they grow and try new things. They learn to adapt and cope with it. As stress accumulates, it can become overwhelming and lead to physical psychological and behavioral issues. Effects of trauma on behavior vary. They can shut down mentally, have angry outbursts, act out in school or at home, become defiant, develop anxiety disorders or become severely depressed.
It is so important for parents to understand trauma. The right kind of help can reduce or even eliminate many of the negative consequences.
3. Symptoms and Signs of Trauma in Kids
Physical symptoms caused by prolonged trauma may be manifest in indigestion, back pain, sleep issues, headaches, fatigue, and nausea.
Signs of trauma can include eating disorders, procrastination, antisocial behavior, difficulty completing homework or chores and substance abuse.
4. Younger Children are at Particular Risk
As with older children, younger children experience both physiological and behavioral symptoms associated with trauma. Early childhood trauma and brain development is an even bigger concern because their rapidly developing brains are very vulnerable. This early childhood trauma can result in reduced size of the brain cortex.
MRI imaging provides insight into how the brain develops. Abuse, neglect and other trauma during infancy or early childhood show scientific evidence of altered brain functioning. Research shows that many capacities thought to be fixed at birth are actually dependent on a sequence of experiences combined with heredity.
Trauma can be triggered when an event or situation reminds the child of an original trauma. Sounds, smells, places, feelings, tones of voice, or other patterns make them feel unsafe or make them have a reaction that is out of character. These are reflexes which are not deliberate or planned, but the children are overwhelmed and may react similarly to the original trauma.
5. How to Help Your Child
Although trauma can have serious effects, there is hope for you and your child. Here are some suggestions to consider as you support your kid:
- Be emotionally and physically available to encourage and comfort the child
- Listen attentively and let them know that feelings are normal after a traumatic experience.
- Be calm and respond rather than reacting. Lower your voice and acknowledge the child’s feelings.
- Do not punish the child physically but set limits and expectations. Use praise for desirable behavior.
- Learn and teach the child relaxation techniques, like slow breathing, listening to calm music or positive mantras.
- Be patient and respect the child as they recover.
- Develop a regular routine and be consistent and predictable. Prepare the child for new experiences or changes in the routine.
- Help the child have positive experiences to build their self-esteem.
- Depending on the age of the child, allow them room for making certain choices.
Accidents, abuse, neglect and other trauma will continue and it is not predictable. Children are victims of many of these events. It is up to parents and caretakers to learn how to handle children who have experienced trauma. There are many local, statewide, and national organizations that can help parents better care for kids who have had trauma touch their lives. Use these tips and others that you believe will help them.