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:
- Fear is the most common initial reaction to trauma. Children are often
reluctant to separate from their parents and need constant contact or
- Traumatized children may have nightmares, often about scary subjects other
than the event. Some children may refuse to sleep alone or in the dark.
- 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.
- Reluctance to go to school is often a symptom of an unresolved traumatic
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
Victim Assistance Coordinator
Ms. Roseanne Kaupp
phone: (403) 529-8480
Ms. Deidre Giesbrecht
Ms. Nathalie Castets
phone: (403) 529-8469