The Short-Term and Long-Term Effects of Trauma on Children | Integrated Counseling and Wellness

The Short-Term and Long-Term Effects of Trauma on Children

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No one likes the idea that children may experience traumatic events while growing up. Unfortunately, many do have these experiences, which can have both short-term effects as well as long-term effects lasting well into adulthood. It is possible for these children to find healing from these traumatic events, but they will need help.

Many Children Experience Traumatic Events

On its website, the American Psychological Association (APA) discusses the 2008 Presidential Task Force on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Trauma in Children and Adolescents. The report notes that depending on the research study U.S. children:

  • Experience rates of being a witness to violence in the community can vary between 39%-85%.
  • The chance of being a victim to trauma depending on the study, can be as high as 66%.
  • The percentage of children who experience sexual abuse are between 25% and 43%.

In 2006 alone, 7.9 million children in the United States had to receive emergency roomcare for what are called “unintentional injuries” such as injuries from an accident. Also, it is more common than not for a child to be exposed to several traumatic events.

The Short-Term Effects of Trauma on Children

The Presidential Task Force report says that it is “almost universal” for children to experience short-term effects after a traumatic event, and that there is some kind of change in behavior. These could include:

  • New fears
  • Nightmares and other sleeping problems
  • Feeling sad
  • Feeling angry
  • A downturn in schoolwork
  • Losing interest in activities they typically enjoy
  • Experiencing separation anxiety issues (especially a concern for younger children)

These symptoms can have an impact on the child’s daily life and affect a child’s ability tointeract with adults, siblings, and peers. They may get in trouble at school, at home, or with law enforcement. These problems only add to the burden that children exposed to traumatic events already have to carry.

Not Getting the Help They Need

Perhaps the most saddening thing about the task force report is that most children who do experience traumatic events and experience symptoms afterwards do not get the help and treatment that they need. It notes that a “substantial minority” of children go on to develop post-traumatic-stress-disorder (PTSD) that can hamper their ability to function in daily life and requires clinical treatment.

Potential Long-Term Effects of Trauma on Children

According to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, the long-term consequences of experiencing traumatic events in childhood are dire. These can include:

  • Smoking
  • Using drugs or alcohol
  • Heart disease
  • Cancer
  • Having unprotected sex
  • Struggling with people in authority
  • Making choices that are high-risk or unhealthy

If children don’t have the opportunity to talk, process, and find healing from their trauma, then they could continuing living from moment to moment while being in what the network calls “survival mode.” This makes it difficult, if not impossible, as a child to lay the groundwork towards becoming a successful and well-adjusted adult.

Treating Children with Trauma

The best way for children who are struggling with trauma-related issues is to be able to talk about what they are feeling in a safe, non-judgmental environment. Participating in trauma therapy can help children to heal and move forward with their lives. The Presidential Report notes how it is important for adults to listen to children in order to understand their perspective. It can be helpful to take into account issues of culture, race and other factors that may provide context for the trauma.
It is important to note that the report says that most children who are exposed to traumatic events will return to their normal selves. Regardless, whether they are experiencing short-term or the longer term effects of trauma, it is important that these children receive the care and support they need to fully heal so that they can live their dreams and reach their full potential.

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