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Childhood/Developmental Trauma

Children can experience traumatic stress reactions that persist and interfere with daily life and ability to function and interact with others, long after the traumatic event ends. These can be categorized either as: 

1. Traumatic events, such as accidents, natural disasters, war and civil unrest, medical procedures or loss of a parent/caregiver; or 

2. Interpersonal trauma, such as violent or sexual abuse, neglect or violence, often occurring with a caregiver. This form of trauma falls into three categories:

Something done to a child: 

      • Sexual, physical or emotional abuse at home or elsewhere
      • Witnessing or experiencing violence in family or home
      • Witnessing or experiencing violence in community (civil unrest or war, refugee or asylum-seeker trauma)

Something not done for the child:

      • Not well nurtured 
      • Physical or emotional neglect 

Child not bonding or attaching securely to parent/caregiver, due to adults experiencing their own trauma: 

      • Parental ill-health
      • Substance abuse or parent in prison
      • Separation or divorce

Research on Childhood Trauma

A 2014 Bethel University study showed nearly half of all U.S. children are exposed to at least one traumatic social or family experience. 

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE, 2002) studies have showed how common childhood trauma is and its negative impact on adult health 50 years later. 1 in 5 reported at least 3 of the following ACE categories:

      • 30% parental substance use
      • 27% physical abuse
      • 25% sexual abuse
      • 25% parental separation or divorce
      • 23% mental illness
      • 17% emotional neglect
      • 14% mother treated violently
      • 13% emotional abuse
      • 9% physical neglect
      • 5% with household member in prison (CDC, 2016)

Symptoms of childhood and adolescent trauma

Effects of traumatic experience can occur at any age, including infants and toddlers. Children and teens can have different reactions. 

Symptoms in children under 6 years old can include:

  • Regression or loss of previously acquired skills (wetting the bed after learning to use the toilet, forgetting how to talk)
  • Intense and ongoing emotional upset (acting out the scary event during playtime)
  • Problems relating to others, forming attachments or being unusually clingy with a parent or caregiver 
  • Nightmares and difficulty sleeping or eating

Older children and teens are more likely to show symptoms similar to those of adults, but may also develop:

  • Difficulties with self-regulation 
  • Attention and academic difficulties
  • Disruptive, disrespectful or destructive behaviors (use of drugs or alcohol, high-risk or unhealthy sexual activity)
  • Feeling guilty for not preventing injury or deaths
  • Having thoughts of revenge

Read more about CFI’s specialized treatments for childhood trauma and other trauma-related concerns.



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