How Children React to Trauma
Children’s reactions to trauma can be immediate. Reactions may also appear much later. Reactions differ in severity. They also cover a range of behaviors. People from different cultures may have their own ways of reacting. Other reactions vary according to age.
One common response is loss of trust. Another is fear of the event reoccurring. Some children are more vulnerable to traumas. Children with mental health problems may be more affected. Children with experience of other traumas may be more affected.
Children Age 5 and Under
Children under five can react in a number of ways:
- Facial expressions of fear
- Clinging to parent or caregiver
- Crying or screaming
- Whimpering or trembling
- Moving aimlessly
- Becoming immobile
- Returning to behaviors common to being younger
- Thumb sucking
- Being afraid of the dark.
Young children’s reactions are strongly influenced by parent reactions to the event.
Children Age 6 to 11
Children in this range may:
- Isolate themselves
- Become quiet around friends, family, and teachers
- Have nightmares or other sleep problems
- Become irritable or disruptive
- Have outbursts of anger
- Start fights
- Be unable to concentrate
- Refuse to go to school
- Complain of physical problems
- Develop unfounded fears
- Become depressed
- Become filled with guilt
- Feel numb emotionally
- Do poorly with school and homework.
Adolescents Age 12 to 17
Children in this range have various reactions:
- Flashbacks to the event (flashbacks are the mind reliving the event)
- Avoiding reminders of the event
- Drug, alcohol, tobacco use and abuse
- Antisocial behavior i.e. disruptive, disrespectful, or destructive behavior
- Physical complaints
- Nightmares or other sleep problems
- Isolation or confusion
- Suicidal thoughts
Adolescents may feel guilty. They may feel guilt for not preventing injury or deaths. They also may have thoughts of revenge.