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Effects of a Traumatic Event on Children

Frightened or traumatized children (especially very young children) express their feelings about a frightening event by means of behavioural changes. This response to a traumatic event is expressed through behaviour because most children do not possess social, developmental, or psychological maturity to fully comprehend what has happened to them. In most cases, such behavioural changes will pass in two to six weeks. Adults should view these behavioural changes as the child's way of saying that he or she was overwhelmed by something very terrifying.

After a traumatic event, it is important for parents to give extra time to their children and do extra things to reassure them. It is usually best for children and adults to resume their normal routines as soon as possible. But, if a child is frightened or behaves oddly, he or she should not be reprimanded or punished. It is also a good idea to take extra time over the next few weeks, to talk with your child to share his or her feelings about what happened with you. Bear in mind that a child may need several talks with his or her parents before he or she can resolve such an event.

The following is a list of symptoms that children frequently display after traumatic events:

  1. Fear is the most common initial reaction to trauma. Children are often reluctant to separate from their parents and need constant contact or reassurance
  2. Traumatized children may have nightmares, often about scary subjects other than the event. Some children may refuse to sleep alone or in the dark.
  3. Some traumatized children react to a traumatic event with anger and hostility. Such anger is usually the expression of the child's fear and helplessness. Temper tantrums or obstinate, unruly behaviour (as well as mood swings) are common in traumatized children.
  4. Reluctance to go to school is often a symptom of an unresolved traumatic event.
  5. Many traumatized children turn their emotional pain into bodily symptoms. Many complain of tummy aches and headaches that have no physical cause. They may use these symptoms as an excuse to stay at home from school. Or, the aches and pains may be an actual expression of emotional pain. Parents should respond to such psychosomatic complaints in an understanding way that is reassuring to the child.
  6. Traumatized children show a wide variety of phobic or avoidant behaviour, such as fear of being outside, being alone, or being in closed-in areas.
  7. Many traumatized children regress or temporarily engage in the behaviour of an earlier developmental stage. Some children will wet the bed, lose their toilet training, suck their thumbs, or generally act like younger children.
  8. Changes in eating habits are fairly common in traumatized children. Frightened children may be reluctant to eat; or they may hoard food or go on eating binges.
  9. Some children may feel that the traumatic event was their fault or could somehow have been prevented from happening. Such children who have guilty feelings may need considerable reassurance from their parents.
  10. Most traumatized children only experience symptoms for brief periods. If you have a question or a concern, please feel free to call us at any time at 403-529-8400. We are here to help.

Contact:

Victim Assistance Coordinator
Ms. Roseanne Kaupp
phone: (403) 529-8480
roseanne.kaupp@mhps.ca

Volunteer Coordinator
Ms. Deidre Giesbrecht
phone: (403)-502-8918
deidre.giesbrecht@mhps.ca

Unit Assistant
Ms. Nathalie Castets
phone: (403) 529-8469
nathalie.castets@mhps.ca