Last week I shared with you about my work as a CASA for the City of Chesapeake and how I’m using that experience in my novel. Another aspect of my novel involves the repercussions that can occur in a person’s life due to childhood trauma.
Earlier this week I attended another training seminar. This one was entitled, “Help Me Understand: Child Trauma and Anxiety. I don’t know if you agree, but it seems that more and more children in our day, as well as adults, struggle with anxiety issues. Not always, but many times, these issues can be traced back to some type of trauma in a person’s childhood.
What is trauma? Trauma results from an event, series of events, or set of circumstances that is experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or threatening and can have lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and physical, social, and emotional well-being.
Statistics provided through National Child Traumatic Stress Initiative indicate that more than two thirds of children reported at least one traumatic event by age 16. Potentially traumatic events include: psychological, physical, or sexual abuse, community or school violence, witnessing or experiencing domestic violence, natural disasters or terrorism, commercial sexual exploitation, sudden or violent loss of a loved one, refugee or war experiences, military family-related stressors, physical or sexual assault, neglect, serious accidents or life-threatening illness.
To gain a little better perspective, let the following facts sink in. Each year, the number of youth requiring hospital treatment for physical assault-related injuries would fill EVERY SEAT in 9 stadiums. 1 in 4 high school students was in at least 1 physical fight. 1 in 5 high school students was bullied at school. 1 in 6 experienced cyberbullying. 19% of injured and 12% of physically ill youth have post-traumatic stress disorder. More than half of U.S. families have been affected by some type of disaster (54%)
Some of the effects of trauma on kids and teens include unfounded fears, clinging to a parent/caregiver, behavior regression, loss of interest in friends, family and fun activities, nightmares or sleep problems, complain of physical problems, feel depressed, emotionally numb, or feelings of guilt. As children get older, they may continue to exhibit the behaviors already mentioned, but also begin to use drugs, alcohol or tobacco, be disruptive, disrespectful, or destructive, feel isolated, and have suicidal thoughts, among other things.
The impact of child traumatic stress can last well beyond childhood. In fact, research has shown that child trauma survivors may experience learning problems, including lower grades and more suspensions and expulsions, increased use of health and mental health services, increased involvement with the child welfare and juvenile justice systems, long-term health problems such as diabetes and heart disease. Trauma is a risk factor for nearly all behavioral health and substance use disorders.
Reading all the possible effects of trauma in a child’s life can be overwhelming and seem as if their emotional and mental well-being is hopeless. It’s not! Children can, and do, recover from traumatic events, and you play an important role in their recovery. An active, caring adult in their lives is a key factor to a child recovering and thriving after a traumatic event.
What can you do? Assure the child that he or she is safe. Explain that he or she is not responsible. Children often blame themselves for events that are completely out of their control. Be patient. Some children will recover quickly, while others recover more slowly. Reassure them they do not need to feel guilty or bad about any feelings or thoughts. Minimize media exposure – excessive exposure to images of a disturbing event can create traumatic stress in a child’s life even if they weren’t directly affected by the event. Encourage physical activity. Feed your child a healthy diet. Rebuild trust and safety through creating routines, minimizing stress at home, speaking of the future and making plans, and keeping your promises. Don’t be afraid to admit when you don’t know the answers to their questions, and make sure you manage your own stress. Sometimes you will need to seek the help of a trained professional to help your child.
A short blog post such as this only scratches the surface of this very deep and important issue. Be attentive to your child’s behaviors and attitudes. If you sense they have anxiety issues and may be reacting to a traumatic event, please be pro-active in providing help for them.
Here are some resources you can look into if you, or your child, needs help:
If you know someone who might benefit from this information, please share this post!