Traumatic experiences can create strong emotions and strong physical reactions in children and young people. This might include feelings of overwhelming helplessness, terror and fear as well unpleasant psychical symptoms of extreme anxiety and panic.
Viewed though a "trauma lens" these thoughts, feelings and behaviours are understandable reactions to traumatic events that are a child's attempts to survive and to try and make sense of often frightening and confusing events.
Reactions to traumatic events can differ and range from relatively mild to severe traumatic stress responses – many recover with the help and support of family, friends and community. Infants, toddlers, children and young people can all develop traumatic stress responses and the responses can vary depending on the child’s age and developmental level. Traumatic stress can fundamentally impact a child’s daily life and ability to function. Traumatic stress responses can vary and are different in very young infants, children and young people (see PTSD/CPTSD tab). The following can be responses to witnessing or experiencing traumatic events or experiences:-
Reactions to traumatic events can vary ranging from relatively minor and mild, to severe and impairing and can impact on mental health, behaviour, social and educational functioning and physical health and wellbeing.
There are 2 mental health diagnoses that are associated with exposure to traumatic events called Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and Complex Post traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD) (For further information on these please see the Resources tab)
There can be other co-existing mental health difficulties including anxiety, depression and prolonged grief. There can be an increased risk of self harm and suicide.
There can be other co-existing behaviour problems such as defiant or oppositional behaviours and conduct disorder.
Social functioning may be affected. 1 in 2 young people with PTSD under the age of 18 experience social isolation and loneliness. 1 in 4 young people with PTSD are not in employment, education or training.
Many young traumatised children complain of physical symptoms such as headaches and stomach aches with some studies reporting an increase in the risk of developing eating disorders, chronic pain and musculoskeletal problems.
Trauma can have a long lasting impact.
Some young people who have experienced traumatic experiences are at increased risk of experiencing mental health problems later in life , physical health problems, relationship difficulties and are more likely to experience further abusive experiences.
Not everyone who has witnessed or experience a traumatic event(s) will develop traumatic stress symptoms. Many recover with the help and support of family, friends and community and the importance of predictable, safe and nurturing relationships cannot be overstated.
Each and every contact with an infant, child or young person, no matter how brief, is a precious opportunity to impact positively on a child's recovery and promote healing. There are multiple, daily opportunities to impact positively on a child or young person's emotional wellbeing and to held build resilience and promote healing.
It is important to know when to seek support and how to seek additional targeted or specialist support to aid with healing and recovery ( please see the Getting Help tab for further information)