May 2024 Newsletter – Impact of Trauma on Children: The Impact of Traumatic Events

The Impact of Traumatic Events

A traumatic event is a scary, dangerous, or violent event, it may occur directly to an individual. An individual may simply just be a witness to a traumatic event for a lasting impact to occur. Traumatic events can cause emotional and physical reactions that can continue long after the event has occurred. Traumatic events can occur from outside the family or within the family. These events can include but are not limited to, physical, sexual, or psychological abuse and neglect, natural disasters, family or community violence, terrorism and school shootings, discrimination, prejudice and racism, or the sudden loss of a loved one. Substance abuse, incarceration of a parent, serious accidents and illnesses, and military family-related stressors.

Children who have faced one or more traumatic events may develop signs of Child Traumatic Stress. The effects of traumatic experiences that occur to children aged 0-6 may be a little more difficult to evaluate. Young children’s reactions may be different from older children’s, and because they may not be able to verbalize their reactions to threatening or dangerous events, many people assume that young age protects children from the impact of traumatic experiences.

Research has established that young children may be affected by events that threaten their safety or the safety of their parents and caregivers, and their symptoms have been well documented.  Research has found that over a quarter of children have experienced at least one traumatic event before the age of four, and many have experienced multiple traumas in their young lives. Young brains that are still rapidly developing can be greatly affected by trauma.

Early childhood trauma has been associated with reduced size of the brain cortex. This area of the brain is responsible for many complex functions including memory, attention, perceptual awareness, thinking, and language development. These changes may affect IQ and the ability to regulate emotions, and the child may become more fearful and may not feel as safe or as protected.

Young children experience both behavioral and physiological symptoms associated with trauma. Unlike older children, young children may not be able to express in words whether they feel afraid, overwhelmed, or helpless. Young children suffering from traumatic stress symptoms generally have difficulty regulating their behaviors and emotions. They may be clingy and fearful of new situations, easily frightened, difficult to console, and aggressive and impulsive. They may also have difficulty sleeping, lose recently acquired developmental skills, and show regression in functioning and behavior.

Not all children are affected in the same way or degree by traumatic events. Children can be protected from long-term harm of traumatic events by having the reliable presence of a positive,  caring, and protective parent or caregiver who can help shield children against adverse experiences. These individuals can be a consistent resource for their children, encourage them to talk about their experiences, and provide reassurance to their children. As early childhood educators, we can be one of those positive people for a child who has experienced trauma.


For the main article Impact of Trauma on Children, CLICK HERE

For the article Recognizing the Signs of Trauma and Traumatic Stress in Children, CLICK HERE

For the article Helping Children Who Have Experienced Trauma, CLICK HERE

For the article How Do We Meet the Needs of Families Whose Children Have Experienced Trauma?, CLICK HERE