Sunday, February 03, 2008

Childhood trauma and emotional maturity

Adults often underestimate what children experience, the extent of their reactions and what they need to know.

Childhood trauma can disrupt child or adolescent development, interfering with the growth of emotional maturity. Repeated exposure to trauma can affect a child's brain and nervous system.

Children suffer a dual response:
- The impact of the trauma on themselves
- The emotional distress of a child's caregiver

Adult support is a strong protective factor. Impacted adults may make at-risk children more vulnerable.


Common trauma responses in children include impaired concentration, difficulty in learning new things, aggression, recklessness, reduced inhibitions, somatic complaints and school refusal.

It is normal for a child who has experienced trauma to:
- Be hypervigilant and constantly alert
- Be jumpy and startled easily by loud sounds and sudden noises
- Feel exhausted
- Have a worsening of chronic medical problems
- Have difficulty concentrating
- Exhibit poor judgment
- Exhibit denial of emotions or lack memory of events

Sometimes children revert to a younger developmental stage (bed-wetting, thumb-sucking, clinging). Teenagers might respond by taking on the role of a parent, acting as an adult and taking charge of the situation. Or, the teen might try to escape in sex, drugs and alcohol.

Children who are traumatized can develop depression, anxiety, mood disorders and/or behavior disorders.

Source: Traumatic Stress in Children, NRCFCPPP, January 8, 2008

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