Trauma Responses in Children & Adolescents

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Traumatic experiences have a profound effect on the developing child. These effects impact the child cognitively, emotionally, psychologically, and socially. Traumatic experiences include abuse, rape, witnessing or being the target of violence, suicide, homicide, natural disasters, house fires, accidents, critical injuries such as severe burns and their treatment, etc. Any event, which the child experiences as life threatening to the child or others, can be defined as traumatic.

COMMON MANIFESTATIONS OF TRAUMA IN YOUNG CHILDREN: (APPROXIMATELY 2-6 YR.)

  • Generalized fear and anxiety
  • Nightmares, night terrors, fear of going to sleep or sleeping alone
  • Regressive behaviors,(bed-wetting, talking baby talk, thumb sucking, whining)
  • Repetitive trauma play, may have difficulty verbalizing about the trauma
  • Confusion and difficulty understanding that the trauma is over
  • Attachment anxiety, (clinging, excessive concern about parent leaving)
  • Physical symptoms, (stomachaches, headaches, other physical symptoms)
  • Personality changes, may be withdrawn and passive, or aggressive and reckless
  • School difficulty, such as difficulty concentrating may not want to go to school
  • Arguing, fighting, agitated, restless, quick to anger and become defensive

MANIFESTATIONS IN OLDER CHILDREN: (APPROXIMATELY 6-12 YR.)

  • Fears are more specific and related to the trauma
  • Sleep disturbance, (nightmares, fear of sleeping alone)
  • Obsessing about and talking about the trauma repeatedly, compulsive behaviors
  • Guilt related to not being able to control the trauma
  • Impaired ability to concentrate and learn
  • Changes in behavior, (such as withdrawn and isolating, or aggressive and reckless)
  • Feeling overwhelmed by and afraid of losing control of feelings
  • Concern for the safety of family members
  • Fear of death and sometimes a fear of spirits or ghosts

MANIFESTATIONS IN ADOLESCENTS: (APPROXIMATELY 12-18 YR.)

  • May include symptoms of older children, as well as adult symptoms
  • May be self conscious about feelings, fears, and being different
  • Aggressive, destructive, self destructive, risk taking, acting out behaviors, (substance abuse, sexual acting out, delinquent behavior, truancy, etc.)
  • Avoidance of interpersonal relationships, withdrawal, social isolation
  • Personality changes, depression, apathy, moodiness
  • Leaving school or leaving home, or fear of separating from family/parents
  • Pessimism, cynicism, plans of revenge
  • Failing grades, disinterest in school, friends, and previously enjoyed activities

 

Seek input and guidance from family physician, teachers, nurses, school counselor, family members, as well as evaluation by a professional counselor with expertise in treating trauma.

 

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