How Childhood Trauma Affects Development

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How Childhood Trauma Affects Development

Childhood trauma is an important event to look at in today’s society. There has been a steady increase in violent crimes being committed and psychological damage that has emerged in many adults’ lives. The national average of child abuse and neglect victims in 2015 was 683,000 — or 9.2 victims per 1,000 children. According to data collected by the National Child Traumatic Stress Initiative, the number of youth requiring hospital treatment for physical assault-related injuries would fill every seat in nine stadiums each year.

One in four high school students was in at least one physical fight. More than 2/3 of children reported at least one traumatic event by age 16. One in five high school students was bullied at school; one in six experienced cyber bullyings. 19 percent of injured and 12 percent of physically ill youth have post-traumatic stress disorder.

More than half of U.S families have been affected by some type of disaster; around 54 percent. Childhood trauma affects millions of people each year. Because of its versatility, there are many types of trauma that can lead to PTSD and long-term effects on health and romantic relationships.

As a parent or guardian, there are signs that one can look out for. Experiencing trauma as a child isn’t a death sentence. Many valuable solutions can help, including organizations that are focused on combating childhood trauma and neglect.

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 it can leave lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and physical, emotional, or social well-being.

There are three types of trauma — acute, chronic, or complex:

  • Acute trauma results from a single incident.
  • Chronic trauma is repetitive and prolonged, such as domestic violence or abuse.
  • Complex trauma is exposure to varied and multiple traumatic events, often of an invasive, interpersonal nature.

Early childhood trauma refers to the traumatic experiences that occur to children ages 0-6. Children can experience various types of trauma, including:

  • Natural disasters
  • Sexual abuse
  • Physical abuse
  • Domestic violence
  • Medical injury, illness, or procedures
  • Community violence
  • Neglect, deprivation
  • Traumatic grief
  • Victim of crime
  • Kidnapping
  • Accidents
  • School violence
  • Loss

Trauma and how it affects brain development is very interesting, to say the least. Research conducted in this field has shown that children are extremely vulnerable to trauma, compared to any other age demographic because of how rapidly their brain develops. During a traumatic event, the brain is in an extremely emotionally heightened state. It experiences severe stress levels, and its fight or flight response system is triggered.

These fear-related hormones are then released. Although stress is a normal part of life, if a child experiences extreme stress from neglect or abuse, their brain re-categorizes it and remains in that state. When the brain remains in this heightened state, it can experience changes in the child’s emotional, behavioral, and cognitive functioning to maintain and promote survival.

Early Detection

It is important to be aware if you believe a child is experiencing trauma. There are some signs you may want to look out for, if you are concerned. There may be different ways the effects of childhood trauma can manifest in a child’s life, so these signs can vary on a case-by-case basis.

Additionally, it is crucial to be vigilant about which symptoms are showing up, since some of these may not be solely caused by childhood trauma. For this reason, it is crucial to be aware of the child’s background or history.

The following are signs to look out for:

  • Eating disturbance
  • Sleep irregularities
  • Somatic complaints
  • Clingy/separation anxiety
  • Feeling helpless/passive
  • Irritable/difficult to soothe
  • Constricted play, exploration, and/or mood
  • Repetitive/post-traumatic play
  • Developmental regression
  • General fearfulness/new fears
  • Easily startled
  • Language delay
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Sexualized behavior
  • Talking about the traumatic event and reaction to reminders of traumatic triggers
  • Avoidant
  • General fearfulness or new fears
  • Helplessness, passive, low frustration
  • Restless, impulsive, hyperactive
  • Physical symptoms/headache
  • Difficulty articulating what is bothersome
  • Attention deficit or difficulty problem-solving
  • Daydreaming or dissociation
  • Talking about the traumatic incident and reactivity to triggers associated with trauma or reminders
  • Sadness/depression
  • Poor peer relationships and social problems
  • Controlling or over-permissive attitudes

What to Do

If you or someone you love believe you have experienced childhood trauma, it is important to look out for these signs. You must have awareness, first and foremost. It is common with a trauma that the sufferers will minimize the intensity or deny it happening at all.

Talk to someone you trust about it, since typically the perception of someone who has experienced this kind of trauma is relatively skewed. Write a letter where you express all the bottled up emotions you may have denied. You don’t have to mail the letter to anyone, but it is helpful to get out all your feelings onto paper.

Ask for help from a professional. Seeking professional help is imperative in cases like childhood trauma. There is a lot of work that most people are not qualified for, so finding someone who has direct experience is important for healing.

Remember to be gentle and kind to yourself. We all want to get to the destination where we feel better. The body remembers, so it is a process (and sometimes a long one, at that). It isn’t impossible, however — you will get there.

Avalon Malibu works with clients who have experienced childhood trauma in their lives. We offer a variety of helpful techniques and therapeutic methods designed to help individuals through the healing process, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), writing therapy, art therapy, and more. Call us today at (844) 857-5992 to learn more.

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