A recent national survey suggests that slightly over 60% of youth in the U.S. experience at least one significant trauma by age 17. Traumatic stress reactions are likely to show up following these types of experiences: physical abuse, sexual abuse, violence exposure (e.g. domestic, community, school), natural/man-made disasters, traumatic loss, and extreme neglect.
Not all children who experience trauma are impacted the same way. Some children develop Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), but trauma exposure is associated with a wide range of different psychiatric problems. Symptom profiles also vary by children’s developmental level.
Very young children may be fearful of going to sleep and experience nightmares or night terrors when they do go to sleep. They may also temporarily loose skills they have acquired, like toilet training and speech/language skills.
School aged children may also exhibit nightmares or other sleep problems, as well as bouts of anger, feelings of anxiety or depression, and physical complaints such as stomach aches or headaches. They may also have increased difficulty concentrating and learning in school. Older adolescents may also exhibit these symptoms, as well as self-destructive behavior and early onset alcohol or drug use.
It is okay for children and their families to talk about the traumas they experience; not talking about it can make it seem more frightening or make them think what happened is too horrible to discuss. Caregivers should try to limit their own intense emotional responses when talking about the traumas, keep up regular routines at home and school, and address safety concerns.
If response(s) to the trauma last(s) or causes problems at home, school, or elsewhere, seek professional help. There are several evidence-supported treatments that have been developed that help children and their families in the recovery process.
- The Effects of Psychological Trauma on Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Research Review
- Traumatic Childhood Experiences in the 21st Century: Broadening and Building on the ACE Studies With Data From the National Child Traumatic Stress Network
- Children in Foster Care: Adverse Childhood Experiences and Psychiatric Diagnoses
- Supporting the Need for an Integrated System of Care for Youth with Co-occurring Traumatic Stress and Substance Abuse Problems
- Somatic Symptoms, Peer and School Stress, and Family and Community Violence Exposure Among Urban Elementary School Children
- Links Between Child and Adolescent Trauma Exposure and Service Use Histories in a National Clinic-Referred Sample
- Risky Business: Trauma Exposure and Rate of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in African American Children and Adolescents
- Do Trauma Symptoms Mediate the Relationship Between Childhood Physical Abuse and Adult Child Abuse Risk?
- Reliability of the GAF and CGAS with Children Exposed to Trauma