Most of us can recall a major life event that disrupted our lives in some way. It could be a natural disaster, the loss of a loved one, a medical treatment, or the memory of abusive words or physical assault. Trauma is widespread, but the intensity level of these experiences differs, as does the way we deal with these events. A child’s coping skills can be overwhelmed, resulting in extreme emotional, psychological and physiological distress.
Trauma can involve actual or perceived threats to the safety and well-being of a child, or to someone close to them. Whether single occurrences, recurring or multiple unrelated events, these experiences result in feelings of fear and helplessness. These are normal responses to abnormal events, not signs of weakness.
A child can be affected at any developmental stage, beginning at infancy. Some children recover quickly with few complications, while others have more extreme reactions. For some, the response is immediate; for others, it is delayed. These reactions may have wide ranging effects on a child’s physical health, emotional responses, behaviors and school success.
Experiencing trauma can result in immediate distress to children and their families, which may lead to lifelong problems. Children need to know that they’re safe and that people care and will help them through whatever events they have experienced. Caregivers, teachers and service providers can be more effective in providing care and support if trauma-informed and sensitive to a child’s needs.