According to the National Institute of Mental Health, childhood trauma is defined as: “The experience of an event by a child that is emotionally painful or distressful, which often results in lasting mental and physical effects.”
Bad things happen in life as children grow up. Some are obvious, like a natural disaster that destroys a home, physical abuse or death of a parent. Others can also rock a child’s sense of safety and well-being, like community violence or substance abuse in a parent. Something as simple as being in a car accident or a child overhearing frequent, intense arguments between his or her parents can be traumatic for some children.
Learning how to understand, process and cope with difficulties – even tragedies – is a natural part of a child’s development process. But sometimes children get stuck. An experience, or repeated experiences, may leave a child with an overwhelming sense of fear and loss, making them feel that they have no safety or control over their lives. For some children, these feelings become so intense that they get in the way of their continued physical, emotional, social or intellectual development. This is childhood trauma.
Unaddressed, trauma can have long term effects on the quality and length of a person’s life. But the good news is that there are things you can do make your child less susceptible to trauma, identify trauma reactions and get the support you need to help your child recover.
Some Leading Causes
The most common causes of childhood trauma include:
- Chaos or dysfunction in the house (such as domestic violence, parent with a mental illness, substance abuse or incarcerated)
- Death of a loved one
- Emotional abuse or neglect
- Physical abuse or neglect
- Separation from a parent or caregiver
- Sexual abuse
- Stress caused by poverty
- Sudden and/or serious medical condition
- Violence (at home, at school, or in the surrounding community)
Bullying can tear a child apart - emotionally and physically - and may lead to childhood trauma.
It sometimes seems that our children grow numb to the violence and crime that besiege many communities.