Childhood is arguably the most impactful stage in one’s life. Early interactions and experiences help to shape the brains of young children. Building a healthy brain early on in a child’s life is important because it provides a strong foundation and increases the likelihood of a positive adulthood experience. However unfortunately some experiences in childhood that can happen have negative effects on brain development, this is sometimes known as trauma and refers to the emotional response we have to distressing experiences.
We try our best to protect our children from harm’s way, but the unfortunate reality is there are distressing events in life that are sometimes unavoidable. Traumatic events that are often experienced during childhood can include the death of a loved one, community violence, natural disaster, serious accident or illness, and more. While some may think that childhood trauma is relatively uncommon, the unfortunate reality is that it happens far too often with nearly 35 million children under the age of 17 report having experienced at least one form of major childhood trauma, this equates to roughly 47.9% of children in the United States. If your child has been the victim or witness of a disturbing or distressing event they may be at risk of post-traumatic stress disorder or other mental health concerns as a result of trauma.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
PTSD is a mental health condition that is triggered by a terrifying or traumatic event either by experiencing or witnessing it. Symptoms of PTSD include flashbacks, nightmares, severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts related to the event. Traumatic events often come with a variety of negative effects on mental and emotional wellbeing, but if these effects last for several months or even years and interfere with day-to-day functioning PTSD may be present.
Types of Childhood Trauma
Childhood trauma can consist of a range of different experiences and events. Any event where a child feels intensely threatened in a situation they are involved in or of witness to can be classified as trauma. The following is a general list of trauma types that have been identified by The National Childhood Traumatic Stress Network.
- Bullying. Whether it be online, to your face, or behind your back, bullying is any action performed with the intent of inflicting social, emotional, physical, and/or psychological harm to another. In some cases, bullying may be severe and cause damage to your child’s wellbeing.
- Community Violence. Exposure to interpersonal violence within public areas can be very traumatic for children, even if they are not the victim. This can lead to the development of fear, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress.
- Complex Trauma. Complex trauma refers to children’s exposure to multiple traumatic events, often related to the lack of a stable caregiver or home environment. This commonly includes events such as abuse or neglect.
- Disasters. Natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornados, floods, or earthquakes can be very traumatic as they may involve the need for an abrupt change in environment and can create a significant amount of panic and fear.
- Early Childhood Trauma. Early childhood trauma refers to traumatic experiences that occur before the age of 6. Trauma in such early stages in one’s life can have more profound effects on growth, development, and adulthood.
- Domestic Violence. Domestic violence occurs when there is a threat or harm made between caregivers or household members.
- Medical Trauma. Medical trauma is the psychological response children have to significant medical events, including injury and illness.
- Physical Abuse. Physical abuse occurs when a parent or caregiver intentionally physically harms a child that often results in injury.
- Refugee Trauma. Many refugees face trauma related to war and political unrest in their environment as well as the trauma of having to move to a new and foreign country.
- Sexual Abuse. Child sexual abuse is when an inappropriate interaction occurs with a child in which the child is used for sexual stimulation of the perpetrator. This can cause a number of lifelong health issues and struggles.
- Sex Trafficking. Sex trafficking involves the exchange of money, food, drugs, and/or shelter for sexual acts. Oftentimes young girls may be manipulated or forced into sexual trafficking.
- Terrorism and Violence. Families and children can be seriously affected by mass violence, acts of terrorism, or community violence in the form of shootings, bombings, threats and other types of attacks.
- Traumatic Grief. Traumatic grief typically involves the loss of a family member or loved one. Some children have more trouble coping with loss than others, and it may result in serious difficulties and interference with their lives.
Effects of Trauma
Unfortunately, childhood trauma can have profound impacts on wellbeing, and the risk for these negative impacts increase if the individual’s trauma is left untreated. In fact, trauma can have negative impacts on one’s relationships, physical health, cognition, emotion and behavior. Depending on the person and type of trauma, trauma may make it more difficult for some children to learn how to trust others, regulate their emotions, interact with the world, and understand their own sense of values and self. In addition to this, trauma can create an extreme and constant state of stress within the body which can lead to an impaired development of the brain, immune, and nervous system. Traumatic experiences have also been linked to an increased risk of medical conditions in the long-term throughout the individual’s life, as well as higher exposure to risky behaviors and mental health consequences.
Tips for those dealing with trauma
Childhood trauma is no easy experience to cope with, for either the child or parent. However, it is important to recognize trauma in children, and if you believe your child has been the victim of one or more traumatic events it is essential, they get the help they need. If you or your child believes that the presence of a medical professional or professional help is needed, please do not hesitate to seek out a health care provider. The following are tips from the Child Mind Institute for parents seeking to help their child cope after a traumatic event.
- Provide reassurance and make them feel safe.
- Maintain routines as much as possible to avoid chaos.
- Encourage your children to enjoy healthy activities and time spent with others.
- Be open, but not pressing, to talk and listen.
- Help them relax with breathing exercises, yoga, reading or other peaceful activities.
- Acknowledge your child’s feelings and let them know they are valid and normal.
- Watch for signs of worsening trauma and know when to seek help.
It is important that as a parent caring for a child dealing with trauma you are taking good care of yourself. Setting a good example by practicing positive self-care and coping strategies such as exercise, meditation, eating well, encouraging hobbies, self-love, and positivity are all ways to demonstrate and practice self-care.
Solstice RTC Can Help
Solstice RTC is a residential treatment center for girls ages 14-18 struggling with the results of trauma, substance abuse, and/or mental health concerns. We strive to help our students heal through a variety of therapeutic techniques based on traditional and holistic treatment methods. Our mission is to support adolescents into living happy, healthy, and productive adult lives.
For more information about our program at Solstice RTC, please call (866) 278-3345. We can help your family today!