We live in an imperfect world, characterized by pain, suffering and turmoil. Although we don’t like to think about it, often children are the victims of horrific circumstances through no fault of their own. We call these circumstances and experiences “childhood trauma(s).” This blog post is aimed at providing parents and teachers with information and additional resources to help children through traumatic experiences and their aftermath.
What qualifies as “childhood trauma?”
The International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies defines “childhood trauma” as “negative events that are emotionally painful and that overwhelm a person’s ability to cope.” The society notes that childhood trauma is most disastrous in its negative effects when it is inflicted by another person, intentionally.
What are some of the types of childhood trauma?
- Physical: Trauma that inflicts physical pain or distress on a child (example: shaking an infant).
- Emotional/Psychological: Trauma that causes long-lasting emotional harm to a child and is degrading in its effects (example: consistent hurtful name-calling by a parent).
- Sexual: Trauma that is the result of sexually abusive behavior by another individual (example: inappropriate touching by an adult).
- Neglect: Trauma inflicted due to adult abandonment of a child’s developmental needs (example: a parent neglecting to feed their child).
- Grief or Separation: Trauma produced by losing a loved one (example: father dying when a child is young).
- Re-traumatization from the system: Trauma inflicted when the system that should be helping a traumatized child, uses their power to further exacerbate and add to the trauma (example: a therapist using their power to inflict psychological pain on the traumatized child).
What are the on adults who experienced childhood trauma?
Adults who suffered childhood trauma face many consequences. As stated earlier, trauma “overwhelms a person’s ability cope.” Psychology Today reports that people who experienced childhood trauma often experience these four consequences:
- Presentation of a false self: The victims of childhood trauma often present themselves falsely to the world as adults. This is likely a coping mechanism that allows them to seemingly protect themselves from experiencing painful emotions related to their past.
- View themselves as Victims: Often individuals who are victims in children feel they are victims for the rest of their life. They are not. They are strong individuals who went through a tough time. They are not victims as adults. They are strong, powerful, and resilient individuals who should see themselves that way.
- Passive Aggressiveness: Forced to hold in their emotions as a child, adults often struggle with expressing anger effectively. As children they may have experienced an adult in their life who utilized anger to inflict trauma on them. Inability to express anger in a healthy way often manifests itself as passive aggressiveness.
- Passivity: When a child has suffered abandonment or neglect, they likely fear it will happen again. To protect themselves from this, they compensate by abandoning themselves. They suppress their emotions and remain passive.
Does childhood trauma affect an individual’s physical health?
Yes! Check out this TED Talk by Nadine Burke Harris, M.D.
What are some signs a child may have experienced something traumatic?
- Constant thinking of death: a traumatic event can cause a child a to become obsessed with their own safety and mortality.
- Problems with sleeping, eating, anger, and attention: The Child Mind Institute reports that symptoms of trauma “can mimic depression.”
- Sensitive to triggers: Children who have experienced trauma often react to certain triggers (people, places, things) that result in them having post-traumatic stress (Example: a child who was physically abused, seeing his abuser outside of school, resulting in them getting very scared).
- Irritable/difficult to soothe: Those who have experienced trauma are often easily agitated and struggle to calm themselves.
- These are just a few of the many trauma signs and symptoms. For a compromised list, check out what the Center for Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation has to offer.
- Look Through Their Eyes
- The Silence: The Legacy of Childhood Trauma
- How Childhood Trauma Could Be Mistaken for ADHD
- The Demographics of Childhood Trauma