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Trauma Sensitive Schools

What is Trauma?
Types of Traumatic Exposure
What is Complex Trauma?
Trauma Response and Reaction
Effects of Trauma
Effects on Children - By Function
Effects on Children - By Age

About Trauma: Effects on Children - By Age

Children communicate their distress in many different ways. Often the way in which children express their distress is closely linked to their stage of development. General guidelines when considering the traumatic reactions of children at different developmental stages include the following:

Infants
Infants depend on adults to look after them. They sense the emotions of their caregiver and respond accordingly. If the adult is calm and responsive and is able to maintain their daily routine, the child will feel secure and symptoms will be minimized. If the adult is anxious and overwhelmed, the infant will feel unprotected and may display a variety of symptoms, including:

  • Fussing
  • Sleep problems
  • Disruptions in eating
  • Withdrawal
  • Lethargy and unresponsiveness

Toddlers
At this age children begin to interact with the broader physical and social environment. As with infants, toddlers depend on adults to look after them and will respond to traumatic situations as well or as poorly as their adult caretakers. Common reactions in toddlers include:

  • Sleep problems
  • Disruptions in eating
  • Increased tantrums
  • Toileting problems (e.g. wetting him/herself)
  • Increased clinging to caretaker
  • Withdrawal

Preschool Children
Children at this age my have more social interactions outside of the family. Their language, play, social and physical skills are more advanced. With these skills, they are more capable of expressing their thoughts and feelings, particularly following a traumatic event. Common responses include:

  • Sleep problems
  • Disruptions in eating
  • Increased tantrums
  • Bed-wetting
  • Irritability and frustration
  • Defiance
  • Difficulty separating from caretakers
  • Preoccupation with traumatic events

School-Age Children
Children at this age are more independent, are better able to talk about their thoughts and feelings, and are engaged in friendships and participation in group activities. They also possess better skills to cope with challenges or difficulties. When confronted with a traumatic event, school-age children may exhibit the following symptoms:

  • Sleep problems
  • Disruptions in eating
  • Difficulty separating from caretakers
  • Preoccupation with details of traumatic event
  • Anxiety and aggression
  • School difficulties
  • Problems with attention and hyperactivity

Adolescents
Adolescence is a time during which youth may feel out of control due to the physical changes that are occurring to their bodies. They experience struggles to become independent from their families and rely more heavily on relationships with peers and teachers. They may show a tendency to deny or exaggerate what happens around them and to feel that they are invincible. When exposed to a traumatic event, adolescents may show the following symptoms:

  • Sleep problems
  • Preoccupation with details of traumatic event
  • Hopelessness
  • Anxiety and aggression
  • School difficulties
  • Difficulties with relationships
  • Unrealistic sense of power


Last Updated: December 18, 2007
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