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 trauma’s effects. Children with existing mental health problems may be more affected. Children who have experienced other traumatic events 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 between six and 11 have a range of reactions. They 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 unfounded 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 between 12 and 17 have various reactions:
- Flashbacks to the traumatic 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 about the event. They may feel guilt for not preventing injury or deaths. They may also have thoughts of revenge.