A growing body of research has established that young children—even infants―may be affected by events that threaten their safety or the safety of their parents/caregivers, and their symptoms have been well documented. These traumas can be the result of intentional violence―such as child physical or sexual abuse, or domestic violence―or the result of natural disaster, accidents, or war. Young children also may experience traumatic stress in response to painful medical procedures or the sudden loss of a parent/caregiver. The most common traumatic stressors for young children include: accidents, physical trauma, abuse, neglect, and exposure to domestic and community violence.
Symptoms and Behaviors Associated with Exposure to Trauma
Children who have experienced trauma may display a range of behaviors. Given that many children may not voice concerns or have the ability to communicate, it is important for parents and adults to recognize possible signs of trauma. According to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, children may be clingy and fearful of new situations, easily frightened, difficult to console, aggressive, and/or impulsive. They may also have difficulty sleeping, experience regressions in developmental skills (e.g., talking, bowel/urinary control), and show regression in functioning and behavior.
Helping Children Cope
To help children cope with trauma it is important for adults in their lives to hold back any negative emotions they may have that could make children feel blamed. Possible strategies may include:
- Indicate you are available to listen to the child
- Use a calm tone of voice
- Get on the child’s level – stoop or sit on the floor
- Reassure children that they will be safe
- Don’t minimize the child’s feelings, as in “Stop being a baby, don’t cry.”
- Follow the child’s lead:
- If the child wants to talk, listen
- If the child wants to be held or picked up, do so
- If the child is clingy, be patient
- Allow children to show their fears; give support
- Help children identify their feelings
The resource guide below also provides information to parents to help learn more about trauma and describes how you can help your child recover.
Copyright 2013 Erlanger A. Turner, Ph.D
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National Child Traumatic Stress Network (2010). Early Childhood Trauma Retrieved September 2013 from http://www.nctsn.org/sites/default/files/assets/pdfs/nctsn_earlychildhoodtrauma_08-2010final.pdf