The statistics are both surprising and disturbing—as many as two of every three children age 16 and younger have been exposed to at least one traumatic event, with consequences that can affect their development, learning, and behavior.
Traumatic experiences can range from a one-time incident, such as the sudden death of a loved one or a natural disaster, to ongoing exposure to experiences like bullying or family violence. Studies have found that the effect on a child’s mental and social development can vary, from a diminished ability to focus and solve problems to long-term difficulties with academic performance, low self-esteem, and relationships with others.
Identifying that a child has experienced trauma is not always easy because emotional and behavioral responses to trauma vary depending on a child’s personality, the type and severity of the incident, the availability of adult support, and other factors. A child may suddenly lose control of his or her emotions, or show no outward changes at all. Because of their age, younger children may have even more difficulty talking about a traumatic event and what they are experiencing.
Still, there are behaviors that could be signs that a child is having difficulty dealing with a traumatic event, such as:
What can teachers, caregivers, and other adults do to help a child who has experienced trauma? The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offers these suggestions:
With support, many children can recover quickly from the fear and anxiety caused by a traumatic experience. But others may need more help over a longer period of time, both to recover and to build resilience that can help them when they face challenges in the future.
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To learn more about early childhood trauma and its effects on young children, contact [LOCAL COMMUNITY AGENCY PHONE #/EMAIL ADDRESS]. Information is also available online from SAMHSA’s website (www.samhsa.gov/children).
These resources provide more detailed information on the types of traumatic events that can affect children; how exposure to traumatic events may change a child’s academic, emotional, and mental development; strategies for helping a child deal with trauma; and additional resources regarding treatment and prevention.
With the support of caring adults, children can recover from traumatic events, reestablish a sense of well-being, and obtain treatment and other services if needed. The more you know about trauma and children, the more you can do to help them.