If you are a parent or teacher or caregiver, and have a child in your life that may have suffered from a traumatic experience, please read on.
What is Trauma?
Trauma can occur in childhood, throughout life, and/or in the present. Traumatic events can be single incidents or recurring ones, and they can be physical and emotional.
Abuse, neglect, divorce, abandonment, accidents, eye-witnessing something frightening, bullying, systemic injustice – all of these experiences can cause traumatic reactions.
Many people are aware of PTSD, a response to trauma experienced by combat veterans. However, trauma can occur as a response to a singular traumatic event such as an automobile crash, seeing a loved-one injured, or another frightening situation.
Sometimes a child can experience an event as traumatic, even if that same event was not perceived as traumatic for parents or siblings.
Younger children are particularly vulnerable, as they may not understand what is happening and may feel that they are somehow responsible for the bad thing that happened or is happening.
COVID-19 has been traumatizing for many of us in some way and can bring up past trauma memories.
Trauma symptoms are extensive, and can include difficulties with sleeping, eating, attention, learning, and emotional regulation.
Role of Parents/Caregivers and Resiliency Building
One of the most important predictive factors in a child’s ability to heal, despite traumatic experiences, is determined by the presence of a consistent, positive, caring adult in that child’s life.
This adult, or adults, can help the child understand and heal from their experience, and with support of professionals, increase the child’s level of felt safety as well as their capacity to cope and do well.
Trauma and the Brain
The most important function of the brain is survival.
When our brain senses we are in danger, an ancient part of our brain, the amygdala, becomes activated and immediately begins to plan our survival; the “flight, fight, freeze” part of our body takes over to protect us before the “thinking” part of the brain has begun to realize the danger.
Trauma occurs when the body is prevented from following through on the plan the amygdala has developed. We may be trapped, held down or prevented from leaving by some other way. We might worry that we will die or someone we love will be harmed or die.
If a child experiences trauma, their brain and body may become “wired” to respond with aggression or anxiety even when something mildly upsetting occurs.
Trauma Isn’t Always Obvious
Less well known is Complex Trauma, also referred to as Complex Developmental Trauma. Childhood experiences such as neglect, abuse and observing domestic violence over time lead to more complex trauma.
These kinds of traumatic experiences cause physiological changes to a child’s brain and nervous system; changes that can result in anxiety, depression, dissociation, shame, difficulty concentrating, oppositional behavior, low self concept and long-term health problems.
Children presenting with ADHD type symptoms, behavioral issues, anxiety and depression may actually be exhibiting the effects of Complex Trauma. In recent years, neurologists have discovered that early childhood experiences like time in a neonatal unit, preschool surgeries, postpartum depression or anxiety in a caretaker, or separation from or loss of a caretaker (the biological mother or other primary attachment figure) can also result in Complex Trauma.
(See more information about adoption-related trauma.)
How Therapy Can Help
CFCE Therapists are experienced in helping families cope with childhood trauma. We understand its effects on children as well as adults.
Our therapists are trained to look ‘under the surface’ at a child’s emotional experience in addition to addressing behavioral issues. We help children process and heal from trauma and learn positive coping strategies.
We have training in Trauma-Informed Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Child-Centered Play Therapy, Family Therapy, and EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing) for children.
In all of our work, we focus on strengthening the caregiver-child relationship to improve the child’s level of resiliency and self-esteem.
At CFCE, we help children, and their families, heal from trauma.