About Trauma

About Trauma

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.”

The most common causes of childhood trauma include:

  • Accidents
  • Bullying/cyberbullying
  • 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
  • Separation from a parent of caregiver
  • Sexual abuse
  • Stress caused by poverty
  • Sudden and/or serious medical condition
  • Violence (at home, at school, or in the surrounding community)
  • War/terrorism

No one can predict how each individual child will react. That’s why it is so important for parents and caregivers to monitor their children’s behaviors and check in regularly on what’s happening in their worlds.

Long-Term Effects of Trauma


Trauma has the potential to impact a person’s physical, emotional, social and cognitive abilities throughout his or her life. Some typical long-term effects of untreated trauma include:

  • Alcoholism
  • Biological and neurological disorders
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Dropping out of school
  • Drug abuse
  • Early death
  • High risk behaviors (e.g. HIV exposure, sexually transmitted diseases)
  • Obesity
  • Suicide

Traumatized children tend to show signs that they are feeling fearful and vulnerable.

Some common behaviors that may signal trauma for older children include:

Behavioral Signs of Trauma

  • Appetite changes
  • Clinginess
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Difficulty paying attention or concentrating
  • Headaches
  • Increased aggression
  • Problems interacting with other children
  • Problems at school
  • Regressive behaviors (acting like they did when they were younger)
  • Stomachaches
  • Temper tantrums

Emotional Signs of Trauma

  • Anger or irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Emotional numbness
  • Extreme emotional distress
  • Inconsolable crying
  • Nightmares
  • Sadness
  • Withdrawal or avoiding engagement with others

How Can I Identify Childhood Trauma?

Birth to 2

  • Unusual clinginess
  • Agitation
  • Unusually high levels of anger
  • Tantrums that don’t stop within a few minutes
  • Easily startled
  • Terrified responses to sights, sounds, etc. that remind the child of what happened
  • Aggressive behavior

Learn more

Ages 3-5

  • Difficulty focusing or learning
  • Acting out in social situations
  • Stomach aches and headaches
  • Unusual clinginess
  • Bedwetting
  • Disruptive
  • High level of anger or excessive temper

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Ages 6-12

  • Sleeplessness and/or nightmares
  • Irritability
  • School problems
  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Recreating the traumatic event during play
  • Eating problems like loss of appetite
  • Confusion

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Ages 13-18

  • Self harm
  • Panic attacks
  • Depression
  • Hostility
  • Over controlling
  • Suicidal thoughts or actions
  • Fighting
  • Aggression towards family and others
  • Mistrustful
  • Loneliness

Learn more

Source: Illinois Childhood Trauma Coalition (n.d.) Symptoms of trauma. Retrieved from: http://lookthroughtheireyes.org/how-can-i-identify-it/