What is childhood trauma?
Trauma occurs when a child experiences an intense event that threatens or causes harm to his or her emotional and physical well-being. Some events are more likely to be traumatic than others and people can have very different responses to the same event. When a child experiences trauma, it can affect their daily lives and their ability to get along with others. Trauma is different than everyday stress. If your child gets nervous before a test at school or going to a new place, you can help them through this type of stress. This is not considered a traumatic event. Trauma is an extreme event that threatens the psychological and physical well-being of the child.
What are some reactions my child may have after experiencing a traumatic event?
When children experience a traumatic event, they may react in both a psychological and physical way. Their heart rate may increase, and they may begin to sweat, to feel agitated, to feel “butterflies” in their stomach, and to become emotionally upset. These reactions are distressing, but in fact they’re normal, they’re our bodies’ way of protecting us and preparing us to confront danger. However, some children who have experienced a traumatic event will have longer lasting reactions that can interfere with their physical and emotional health.
When should I worry about my child's reaction to a traumatic event?
It is important to understand that most children will likely develop some stress reactions if they have been the victim of a traumatic experience. In many cases, some acute reactions are normal for a child in the aftermath of a recent traumatic event. These reactions should get better over time. However, not all children will experience child traumatic stress. Whether or not a child develops difficulties depends upon the individual child, the severity of the event, and whether or not the child has a history of previous trauma exposure or mental health concerns. It is also important what kind of support he/she has at home and that the parent or caregivers can help the child cope. If the child’s traumatic stress reactions get worse, not better, over a long period of time after the event, the parent/caregiver should seek help. As a first step, it is helpful to consult with a mental health provider who can conduct a trauma-focused assessment and offer the appropriate treatment. Although it can be a difficult first step to take, children often respond well to trauma-focused treatment and symptoms can begin to improve in several months.