Trauma is an emotional and psychological response to a terrible event. Childhood Trauma is the experience of an event by a child that is emotionally painful or distressful, which often results in lasting mental and physical effects. Childhood trauma can occur when a child witnesses or experiences overwhelming negative events. Many childhood experiences can overwhelm a child.
Some Genuine Causes of Childhood Trauma
Childhood trauma is adverse and harmful experiences children go through mostly because of the cold attitude of their caregivers. Some of the events that can be traumatic for the child are:
- Abuse – physical, emotional, and sexual
- Sexual exploitation
- Intense bullying
- Domestic violence
- Separation in parents
- Witnessing violence at school and community
- Death of a loved one
- Life-threatening accidents
- Fatal or near-fatal illnesses
- Natural disasters
- War or refugee experiences
Childhood Trauma and PTSD
Children develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following a traumatic event. Children with PTSD may re-experience the trauma in their minds over and over again. To prevent future traumas, they become hypervigilant too in looking for signs that something bad is going to happen again.
Children with PTSD may also:
- Act younger than they are (such as by sucking their thumb)
- Experience trouble focusing
- Feel more depressed or anxious
- Find it difficult to be affectionate with others
- Have increased anger and aggression
- Have issues in school
- Have trouble sleeping
- Lose interest in activities they once enjoyed
- Lose touch with reality
- Seem detached, numb, or non-responsive
- Worry about dying young
Even children who don’t develop PTSD may still exhibit emotional and behavioral issues following a traumatic experience. Such as:
- Anger issues
- Attention problems
- Changes in appetite
- Development of new fears
- Increased concerns about death or safety
- Loss of interest in normal activities
- Problems sleeping
- School refusal
- Somatic complaints such as headaches and stomachaches
Impacts of Childhood Trauma
Traumatic events can affect how a child’s brain develops. It can have lifelong consequences for them physically, mentally, and socially. When children are emotionally and mentally injured, neglected, or even abused in childhood, those inner wounds never heal.
Physical Health Impacts
When a child experiences a traumatic event, it can impair their physical development. The stress can impair the development of their immune and central nervous systems, hence making it harder to achieve their full potential. Exposure to repeated trauma increases a child’s risk of developing:
- Coronary heart disease
Mental Health Impacts
Childhood trauma can also have an impact on mental health. Psychological effects of traumatic experiences can include:
- Anger control issues
- Emotional distress
- High levels of stress
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Psychotic disorders
A child’s relationship with their caregivers is vital to their emotional and physical health. The attachment children have with their caregivers can also help them learn to trust others, manage emotions, and positively interact with the world around them. When a child experiences a trauma that teaches them that they cannot trust or rely on that caregiver. However, they’re likely to believe that the world around them is a scary place and that people are dangerous. This makes it incredibly difficult to form relations.
Sometimes the impact of childhood trauma extends beyond physical or mental health and relationships. The adverse childhood experiences with an increased risk of becoming a criminal offender by the age of 35. People may often commit offenses that are serious and violent.
Additional impacts can include:
- Being easily “set off” and having more intense reactions
- Engaging in high-risk behaviors (such as driving at high speeds )
- Inability to plan or prepare for the future
- Increased risk of self-harm
- Lack of impulse control
- Low self-esteem
- Trouble problem-solving or reasoning
How to Help Children Who Have Experienced Trauma
Social support can be key to reducing the impact trauma has on a child. Even as far as reducing their risk of suicidal ideation.Here are some ways to support a child after an upsetting event:
- Encourage the child to talk about their feelings and validate their emotions.
- Help them understand that they are not at fault.
- Answer their questions honestly.
- Reassure the child that you’ll do everything you can to keep them safe.
- Stick to a daily routine as much as possible.
- Be patient as each child recovers at their own pace.
Depending on the child’s age and needs, they may be referred for services such as
Cognitive behavioral therapy
In some cases, such as when there is a diagnosis of PTSD, medication may also be an option to help treat their symptoms.
Childhood is meant to be a beautiful experience. It is meant to be the most memorable and best years of one’s life. Also, children experiencing traumatic events may have a reduced ability to parent their kids later in life. So, it is important to heal from Childhood Trauma.