The challenges of childhood trauma

The challenges of childhood trauma

Traumatic events can affect the brain development of a child. A study published in 2015 showed that the more adverse childhood experiences a person has, the higher their risk of health and wellness problems later in life.

Adults often say, “He is so young, he won’t even remember it when he grows up.” But childhood trauma leaves a lifelong impression on a person’s mind. Kids are not made of stone. That’s not to say your child will be emotionally marred for life if they experience any terrifying incident. But it’s significant to acknowledge when your child needs professional help to deal with trauma. Early treatment may prevent your child from enduring lasting consequences of the trauma as an adult.
Many different experiences together can constitute and define trauma. Childhood trauma is any episode experienced by a child that jeopardises their life or bodily integrity. Physical, emotional or sexual abuse can be traumatic for children, so can events like a car accident, natural disaster, death of a dear one, separation from a parent, broken family, or debilitating illness. Living in a dangerous neighbourhood or being the victim of bullying, living in a war-torn area or a region of political conflict can also be traumatic, even if it just feels like daily life to an adult.
Childhood trauma also doesn’t have to occur in a flash to the child. For example, watching a loved one endure pain or suffer constantly can be highly traumatic to a child. Being vulnerable to violent media can also traumatise children, which nowadays is common.
Just because an experience is upsetting, doesn’t make it traumatic. For instance, parents’ divorce will likely affect a child but it isn’t necessarily traumatising.

Childhood Trauma and PTSD
At one point of life or another, many children are exposed to traumatic events. While most children experience psychological suffering after a traumatic event, the majority of them resume the normal way of functioning over a certain period of time. Some kids are much more resilient and thus less affected by their circumstances than others.
As shown by a survey, between 3% and 15% of girls and 1% and 6% of boys develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PSTD) following a traumatic event. It has been observed that the children with PTSD re-experience the trauma in their minds over and over again. They may also try to ward off anything that reminds them of the trauma that happened. They may need someone very close and reliable to share their feelings with. Many children, unfortunately, have to face or are helplessly facing multiple traumas in their lives.
Such children doubt themselves. They attempt to prevent future traumas by becoming hyper-vigilant for warning signs that something awful or severely sad is going to happen again.

Children with PTSD may also have problems with:
• Anger and aggression
• Anxiety
• Depression
• Difficulty trusting others
• Fear
• Feelings of isolation
• Poor self-esteem
• Self-destructive behaviour
• Lack of self-confidence and self-belief
• Insomnia and nightmares
• Muscle tension

Children who don’t develop PTSD may still exhibit emotional and behavioural issues following a traumatic experience, such as:
• Anger issues
• Attention problems
• Changes in appetite
• Development of new fears
• Increased thoughts about death or safety
• Irritability
• Loss of interest in normal activities
• Problems sleeping
• Sadness
• School refusal
• Somatic complaints like headaches and stomach-aches
• Oversensitive to pain perceiving.

Long-Term Health Consequences
Traumatic events can affect the brain development of a child. A study published in 2015 showed that the more adverse childhood experiences a person has, the higher their risk of health and wellness problems later in life.

Childhood trauma may increase an individual’s risk of:
• Asthma
• Coronary heart disease
• Depression
• Diabetes
• Stroke
A study published in 2016 in Psychiatric Times noted that the prevalence of suicide attempts was significantly higher in adults who experienced trauma, such as physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, and parental domestic violence, as a child.
Attachment and Relationships
A child’s relationship with their caregiver, be it parents, grandparents, or any guardian, is critical to their emotional and physical well-being. Good relationships and attachments help the little one gain the knowledge to trust others, handle emotions well, and interact with the world around them, which is otherwise scary owing to the trauma.
When a child goes through a trauma that instructs them that they cannot rely on a caregiver, they believe that the world around them is a scary and unsafe place to dwell in and all adults are dangerous. A strong sense of insecurity develops in them—and that makes it incredibly difficult to form relationships throughout their childhood, including with peers their own age, a difficulty that continues into the adult years.
Children who struggle to maintain healthy attachments to caregivers are also likely to struggle with romantic relationships during adulthood. This struggle is eased if, fortunately, such children as adults find an understanding, caring, intellectual and reliable partner in their life.

How to Help Children
Family support can be key to reducing the impact of trauma on a child. Here are some ways to support a child after an upsetting event:
• Encourage your child to talk about their feelings and validate their emotions.
• Answer questions honestly.
• Reassure your child that you’ll do everything you can to keep them safe.
• Stick to your daily routine as much as possible.
• Befriend your child before any other person lends a hand.
• Children have a fragile heart; only good parenthood can help them overcome the trauma.
What if help was not given in childhood? How to help the adult?
Psychological trauma can leave you struggling with upsetting emotions, memories, and anxiety that won’t go away. Traumatic experiences often involve a threat to life or safety, but any situation that leaves you feeling overwhelmed and isolated can result in trauma, even if it doesn’t involve physical harm.
1. Do not isolate them. It does not mean that you have to talk to them always about the trauma, but be available to talk.
2. Be understanding, patient and comprehensive. Healing from such traumas may take time. Pace of recovery may be slow and also every person’s response to trauma is different. Don’t be judgmental to your loved one’s reaction against your own response or anyone else’s.
3. Offer practical support to aid your dear ones get back to a normal life. That may mean helping with work and simply being available to talk or listen.
4. Don’t pressure your dear one into conversation but be available if they want to talk. Some find it difficult to talk about what happened.
5. Help them to socialise and relax. Encourage them to take part in physical exercise, seek out friends, and pursue hobbies and other social activities that bring them peace. Take them to a fitness class.
6. Such a person may become angry, irritable, withdrawn, or emotionally distant. Remember that this is a result of the trauma and may not have anything to do with you personally.

—The writer is a research scholar at University of Kashmir. [email protected]

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