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  • Writer's pictureKaley Sinclair Jiawon

What is trauma and How is it Treated? Part 3: How trauma looks different in kids and teens.

Updated: Sep 11, 2018

Thank you all for being patient with me as I took a little (but much needed) break during the summer from my blog. Now I will continue my series on trauma.

Symptoms of Trauma. As I said in my last post, symptoms of trauma can really vary from person to person, and kids are no different! Just like every child is unique, trauma symptoms vary greatly from child to child. That being said, there are some symptoms to look out for that may let you know your child or teen is experiencing trauma and needs specialized help.

Why do Kids and Teens Respond to Trauma Differently?

Children and teenagers' brains are still in the process of developing and growing, so their responses to stressors vary greatly depending on what their developmental stage is. How kids react to stressful situations may seem strange or counterintuitive, but once you understand their brain development, it all makes perfect sense! Below are generalizations, but some of the most common reactions to be aware of.

Children: Often have issues meeting normal developmental milestones and are difficult to soothe. Some of the most common reactions include:

  • screaming or crying excessively

  • poor appetite or digestive issues

  • headaches and stomachaches with no identifiable cause

  • delay with verbal skills

  • delay with other developmental tasks like potty training or issues wetting the bed

  • may continually play out or draw a traumatic event

  • may regress developmentally including using "baby talk"

  • Struggle with focus or learning new skills at school

  • difficulty making friends

  • becoming overly clingy

  • engage in negative self-talk

  • act out and be aggressive verbally or physically

  • may touch themselves or other children inappropriately

Teenagers: Teens depending on their age often display that something is wrong in very different ways. Some of the most common include:

  • isolating themselves

  • self-harm (most often cutting themselves, but can include other methods)

  • irritability and anger outbursts

  • negative self-talk

  • using drugs

  • engaging in risky sexual behavior

  • low self-esteem

Self-esteem and Confidence

Because kids understand everything in context with their own experiences, most of the trauma is internalized and kids take responsibility. Instead of understanding "something bad happened" they often believe that something happened "because I'm bad." This can lead kids who experience interpersonal trauma to blame themselves even though it's not their fault. They don't know of any other way to make sense of it all. For that reason, it's so important to address early on, so the negative beliefs about self don't stay and impact their choices and confidence in the future.

Protective Factors and Resiliency: The biggest factors that help a child heal and bounce back after abuse or experiencing a traumatic event include:

  • The consistent and reliable presence of a parent or caregiver that is positive, protective, and caring.

  • strong cultural or religious identity and an affirming community surrounding that identity

  • supportive friends and healthy adult role models

  • access to healthcare, stable housing, and economic stability

  • early intervention with a therapist trained in evidence-based treatments

What do I do if this sounds like my child?

If you or someone you care about is struggling with trauma, there is effective and evidence-based help. Call me at (407) 205-0251 for a free 15 minute phone consultation. I would love to help your child and your family start your road to healing!

Check back in next month for part 4 of this series to learn more about how trauma can impact our intimate relationships and sometimes keep us from creating the relationships we want

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