Trauma in Children


There are many ways children may be exposed to trauma or adversities that lead to psychological consequences. Witnessing a crime or domestic violence; experiencing emotional, psychological, or sexual abuse; losing a loved one; or living through a natural disaster can all affect children and require them to seek help to overcome the traumatic experience. In many communities, much of the trauma in children is caused by domestic violence, where the father is usually the aggressor and the child witnesses the resulting atrocities.

Children are very sensitive and struggle in their own world to understand the trauma they are experiencing. Some mental health clinicians believe that psychological support should be initiated when a crisis occurs by attending to the scene immediately after the traumatic incident takes place. However, emotional reactions are different among children, and they respond differently to the treatment or support they receive.

There are two types of trauma in children: physical and mental. Physical trauma includes the body’s reaction to threats or serious injuries, whereas mental trauma includes frightening thoughts and painful feelings, which are the mind’s response to such stimuli. It is very common to see children who have been exposed to a traumatic event develop extreme behaviors. They show intense fears, withdrawal, detachment, irritability, aggression, or poor concentration and often feel the event will happen again. They may sometimes behave at a younger age than they actually are. In addition, some may have disturbed sleep or nightmares, refuse to sleep alone, or develop an immense fear of dark places.

Certain events could cause children to be more vulnerable to trauma and have serious emotional challenges. For example, divorce or parental separation after months or years of fighting can instill a great fear in the child, who may need the help of a mental health professional. This does not mean that the child has a mental illness; rather, therapy can help the child understand what is happening and how to deal with his or her feelings.

Some children recover from trauma within a few weeks, but for others the treatment may take months or even years. Many children are very confused about what has happened and are subject to mixed feelings that, for the most part, are difficult to identify. It is important to note that parents are a vital part in the treatment process.

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