Feature of the month: Childhood Trauma

Feature of the month: Childhood Trauma

Children are resilient, but they are not made of stone. In fact, according to a child and adolescent psychiatrist Nancy Rappaport, children are experts in masking how they really feel. Children express distress in ways that are not easily recognisable to adults. Often, these feelings are expressed in behaviours that are off-putting and aggressive.

Early childhood trauma are experiences that occur to children ages zero to six and they may include a wide range of experiences such as physical abuse, natural disasters, illness, extreme grief, accidents, loss and violence. Research has proven that children in particular, are more vulnerable to trauma as their brains are rapidly developing. During a traumatic experience, fear-related hormones are released and a child’s brain is in a heightened state of stress. When the child is constantly exposed to the situations that bring about these changes, the child’s brain remains in this heightened state and this causes changes in behavioural, emotional and cognitive functioning of a child, all of which are the natural reaction to maintain and promote survival.

According to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, “children suffering from traumatic stress symptoms generally have difficultly regulating their behaviours and emotions. They may be clingy and fearful of new situations, easily frightened, difficult to console, and/or aggressive or impulsive. They many have difficulty sleeping, lose recently acquired developmental skills, and show regression in functioning and behaviour.”

Childhood trauma can have lifelong effects, even right through adulthood. However, children who have endured horrific experiences can recover through proper intervention. A support system is the key to reducing the impact of trauma on children and this involves parents and care-givers. Providing positive attention to children who have had a traumatic experience by connecting with them, helping them build missing skills, praising them for desired behaviour and expressing kindness and warmth are some ways to support the child. Parents and care-givers can also encourage the child to talk about his or her feelings, accept or approve his or her emotions, reassure the child, answer questions honestly and even sticking to daily routines as much as possible can help the child overcome a traumatic experience.