Before we go into the details about Childhood trauma, you need to have a clear idea on what “Traumatic Stress” is. Traumatic stress arises from traumatic events involving emotionally overwhelming or shocking situations that may be due to an injury, threat to physical integrity or an incident related to actual or threatened death.
Although not all traumatic events cause deepened mental disorders or severe emotional issues, some may cause minor disruptions.
The term trauma can be attributed to describe situations that have a negative ability on a person’s ability to cope with emotional stress. These traumas when imparted at early childhood years can have a continued effect on that person even when they become an adult. Children can be exposed to variety of trauma that can leave a heavy psychological scar.
Community violence includes violence such as robbery and also conflicts between people who are not part of the family. Community violence may include shootings, stabbings, and brutal beatings.
Children when exposed to such acts whether as victims, witnesses or as the person responsible can cause them to live in increased fear of the world being unsafe. Also common community violence that today’s youth are facing is bullying and different forms of gang violence.
Complex trauma usually describes the effects of multiple traumatic events on children and then long term impacts on their daily lives. These events are often severe and include child abuse and neglect.
Child abuse is caused by people that are supposed to be in charge of taking care of children. Child abuse takes the form of physical, sexual or psychological abuse and can occur in any setting such as home, school, workplaces and churches.
Complex trauma often has a severe effect on a child’s emotional and physical state disrupting his/her ability to concentrate, think and learn, and to form relationships with other people. Over the life span of a child, complex trauma can lead to chronic addiction habits, depression and self-harming behaviors.
Domestic violence is a common occurrence in almost every household. Exposure of children to severe accounts of domestic violence between closely related individuals like parents, can impact his/her physical, emotional and psychological well-being. Children with chronic exposure to domestic violence are often at a risk of getting abused.
Although the effects of domestic violence may vary among children, for some the situation may cause trauma while others can continue living their life normally. There may be both short term and long term effects of exposure to domestic violence.
Short term effects include: anxiety, insomnia, lack of concentration, nightmares, and increased bouts of aggressiveness. Long terms effects involve certain health issues, behavior issues when the child reaches adolescence that may lead to drug abuse and addiction and emotional issues when reaching adulthood such as depression, PTSD and anxiety disorders.
Children subjected to domestic violence often have poor performance in school leading to their low social verbal and motor skills leading to problems at a later age when searching for a job.
Early childhood trauma
Early childhood trauma generally occurs to children between the age group of 0 to 6. Since infants are less likely to assess any life threatening situation and fail to verbalize them, people often make a mistake that they do not undergo any traumatic stress.
Research has shown that children when exposed to situations that threaten them or their parents/caregivers like natural disasters or any kind of violence they are affected by it and show symptoms of trauma at a later stage. Infants who had early childhood trauma may find it difficult to express their emotions or have a difficult time controlling their behavior.
Behavioral symptoms of traumatic stress may include being clingy and scared of new situations, anxiety and lack of sleep and display compulsive and aggressive behavior from time to time.
Medical trauma refers to certain reactions children may have to pain, injuries or any serious illness. It may also refer to medical procedures like surgery or any treatment that leave a profound frightening effect on children.
These reactions might affect them at a physical as well as mental state. Children and their family might be on the edge, become overly anxious and irritable and have unreasonable thoughts about the treatment procedure, the doctor or the hospital in particular.
Some children may avoid going to hospitals or doctors all together because of the trauma. Children may also have a lacking interest of being friends with other people or in family or in things they used to love.
Disasters can be described as any natural catastrophe such as earthquakes or floods, or fire and explosions that causes damage to property and lives. Disasters can occur from man-made events but when these are done intentionally they fall in categories of terrorism.
Natural disasters can have a profound effect on the mental health of a child along with any physical injury caused by the event. Increased bouts of anxiety and growing fear of the outside environment are some of the things that stay with children experiencing trauma from natural disasters.
Neglect is a form of child abuse in which the child is not given proper care and attention that he/she deserves according to their age. Neglect can mean the child is not given food, clothes or shelter or the parent or caregiver is not providing the child with medical treatment or mental health treatment.
Neglect can also mean not providing the child with proper education and schooling or also exposing them to several dangerous situations due to lack of supervision. Neglect is the most common form of child abuse and often the resultant is homeless and abandoned children.
Neglect leaves a deep scar on the child’s mental health which if not at present but may materialize in their adolescence in terms of heavy drug abuse and mental disorders.
Physical abuse occurs when children fall prey to attempts that cause physical injury or harm. Physical abuse can be from a single traumatic event or a series of continuous events. Sometimes severe physical abuse leads to death.
Children suffering from physical abuse develop traumatic stress leading to anxiety and depression. Child abuse has also been linked to a poor mental, physical and emotional development in children.
School violence is the most common form of childhood trauma. School violence includes threats to students, any kind of physical injury from fights and bullying. Children exposed to violence at school receive deep emotional and mental scars that can later portray itself as drug abuse and addiction. The alarming increase in bullying at schools has led to efforts that aim in eradication of this issue.
Children are often a target of sexual harassment by older persons. Sexual abuse may be in the form of body contact or verbal abuse and pressure. Child sexual abuse affects both boys and girls of all communities and ethnicities.
Sexual abuse at a young age may carry an emotional trauma that may even manifest itself when the child grows into adolescence or becomes an adult.
Children and youth that may have been involved in a terror attack as a witness, suffer from heavy traumatic stress throughout their lives. Terror attacks often impart psychological as well as severe physical damage. Childhood trauma from terror attacks may result in anxiety bouts, fear of surroundings and lack of concentration.
Traumatic grief occurs when a child witnesses the sudden and unexpected death of someone closer to them. the traumatic grief in these cases are so severe that the mention of deceased person in any way can trigger horrific and frightening memories related to death in these children.
Possible treatment procedures of childhood trauma
Through proper counseling and encouragement any form of childhood trauma can be erased. Here are some of the possible treatment methodologies:
- Teaching children to regulate emotions and educating them about post-traumatic stress, reactions to loss and grief to enhance and strengthen their coping skills.
- Improving parent child relationships and child behavior.
- Holding frequent counseling sessions for both the child suffering from trauma and their parents.
- Holding therapy groups and sessions for children suffering from trauma and help encourage them.
- Encouraging children to talk about various issues troubling them with their parents or the ones they trust.
Adults and childhood trauma
Experience abuse or neglect at a relatively early age can have serious negative impacts on an adult’s life. The impact can be felt on mental, physical and emotional health along with various other areas such as establishing personal relationships, lack of social skills, trust issues, anxiety disorder and unhealthy addiction to drugs.
- Emotional health: adults who have experienced childhood trauma can often show feelings of anger, shame, guilt, helplessness, worry and sadness.
- Physical health: children exposed to trauma develop heightened stress syndrome which reduces their ability to cope with even slightly tense situations. This leads to lack of sleep, less control over emotions and a variety of other illnesses in their adulthood.
- Mental health: people experiencing childhood trauma and abuse are likely to have high rates of anxiety, suicidal tendencies, depression, PTSD, drug and alcohol abuse.