Trauma in young children

trauma in children

As parents, we want to protect our children from any bad experiences, but especially ones that can be classified as traumatic experiences. Unfortunately, life sometimes has other plans. Oftentimes these experiences can be out of our control, and the best way to start helping your child deal with it is to identify that they are affected by it. 

For children, traumatic experiences can be really scary things like abuse (verbal and physical), violence, death or neglect. However, the spectrum is made broader when including what experts call Adverse Childhood Experiences or ACEs. The ACE study is an ongoing research study that explores the relationship between childhood trauma experience and long-term medical health and social consequences. 

Results show that approximately 65% of children experience at least 1 adverse event during their childhood and that nearly 40% of children experience at least 2 or more ACEs. The reason that these percentages are so high is because, included in the aforementioned traumatic experiences, are things like divorce, economic hardships, family illness and bullying. 

Here is a list that can help identify whether your child is having adverse effects from a known or even unknown traumatic experience:

At Any Age

No matter their age, traumatised children may: 

  • seek or demand more attention, 
  • show aggression, 
  • seem withdrawn, 
  • startle easily, 
  • have sleep problems, 
  • have separation anxiety or show fear of certain adults, 
  • cry for reasons adults can’t figure out, 
  • exhibit regressive behaviors (such as wetting the bed after being toilet trained), 
  • show increased irritability, and 
  • display sadness. 

In addition, certain symptoms of trauma can appear at different times during a child’s development.

Birth to 2 years old

Infants and toddlers may:

  • have digestive problems and low appetite and weight, 
  • possess weaker verbal skills and more memory problems than older children, and
  • have exaggerated emotional responses (such as screaming or crying). 

Ages 3–6 years old

As kids grow, there are often more noticeable cognitive, behavioral, and physiological reactions. Young children may:

  • have difficulty focusing in school, 
  • have delays in cognitive development or demonstrate learning disabilities, 
  • act out with anger or aggression in social situations or imitate traumatic experiences verbally or physically,
  • become anxious, fearful, or avoidant, 
  • have repeated or intrusive thoughts, 
  • develop feelings of self-blame, low self-confidence, and feelings of mistrust toward others, impacting their ability to establish friendships,
  • have stomach aches and/or headaches, and
  • enact elements of the trauma in play, drawing, or speaking.

If you suspect any of the above behaviours indicate your child is battling through an Adverse Childhood Experience, speak to your family doctor or clinic nurse – they can point you towards a local play therapist or counseling centre for assistance.


Toptots Early Learning SA

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