Children's Reactions to Trauma

Children, like adults, may experience emotional and physical responses in the event of a traumatic event. Children have their own ways of coping with trauma – depending on their own stage of development. Even very young children can be affected by trauma.

A child may have directly experienced or witnessed a traumatic event, or simply heard about a distressing incident. Regardless, children may still react to the traumatic event.

A child’s understanding of a traumatic event can be largely influenced by their own ideas of what they thought has happened. It is important to recognise that ofen children do not have all the facts about the event and so their understanding of the trauma can be fragmented and distorted. Their imagination will help ‘fill’ the gaps so that they can better understand and make sense of the event. Often what they imagine, however, can be more frightening than what actually happened! It is therefore important to offer honest and age appropriate information to any questions asked.

Children may show their concern by talking about the event. They may also express their upset through play – which might include aspects of the traumatic event. Younger children will often return to earlier behaviours, such as becoming more clingy to a parent.

Importantly, children need a sense of safety, security, comfort and understanding, offered through close family and loved ones to help them cope.

Listed below are some of the reactions that may be seen in children following a traumatic or distressing event. These reactions may appear at the time of the event or later on. Most of the behaviours listed are short-term and settle within a short period of time. If the behaviours persist or are causing great distress it may be useful to seek professional help from a casino online registered psychologist who has experience working with children in this area.

Physical Reactions

* Change in eating habits (increase or decrease)
* Nausea and stomach pains
* Sleep disturbance/nightmares
* Headaches
* Change in toileting habits
* Small ailments requiring comforting

Behavioural Reactions

* Confusion
* Aggression
* Tearfulness
* Fearful and anxious
* Irritable/restless/difficulty in playing constructively
* Difficulty coping with everyday tasks
* Passive/helpless response
* Unco-operative
* Withdrawn/uncommunicative
* Clingy towards familymembers or familiar things

Changes in Thinking

* Preoccupation with the trauma
* Reduced concentration/school performance
* Seeing the event over and over again (‘flashbacks’)
* Excessive concern for self or others

What Can You do to Help?

  • Offer support, rest and comfort. Listen.
  • Provide a safe, structured, consistent environment. Maintain routine/familiarity where possible. (eg. still go to basketball practice, even if it is just to see friends)
  • Give children the real facts, without the unnecessary details. Be mindful of their age and what they can understand. Older children can tolerate more information.
  • Encourage children to express their emotions. Allow them to feel upset, laugh, cry, draw, play, talk. Offer support and comfort while they are upset.
  • Reassure them about the future – upcoming positive events and happenings.
  • Look after yourself. Children need coping adults who can offer support to help them recover.

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