“The Silent Epidemic” – Childhood Trauma – Part 2: Early Childhood Trauma Early Childhood Trauma
Early childhood describes children between the ages of 0 to 6. These children are less capable of anticipating dangers and keeping themselves safe, and are thus particularly vulnerable. They depend exclusively on parents-caregivers for survival and protection. In the face of traumatic stressors, their first response is to look for reassurance from these trusted adults. But, sometimes they are targeted by the very people they rely on for protection and safety. It is very difficult for children to experience this betrayal and failure of being protected by their parents-caregivers. The children may be confused as to what is safe and what is dangerous. Parents-caregivers who are supposed to provide, protect and nurture them, are now sources of fears and danger. When traumas affect or involve these parents-caregivers relationships, the children lack a role model, someone to soothe them and help them regulate their emotions. They are unable to express in words their feelings of fears, helplessness, and the state of being overwhelmed. Parents-caregivers may not understand the unusual behaviours and subsequently lack appropriate responses, further aggravating their child’s development and wellbeing (National Child Traumatic Stress Network [NCTSN], 2010).
Traumatic Stress in Young Children
Traumatic events have a profound sensory impact on young children. Their perception of the world as a safe place is being shattered by frightening visual and auditory stimuli, and violent movements. Young children have a lack of understanding between cause-and-effect and are not yet able to rationalize events. The children may be upset by the distress cries of their parents-caregivers, and may blame themselves or their parents-caregivers for not preventing the frightening events or being unable to change the outcomes (NCTSN, 2010).
Young children have limited abilities to self-soothe, and have difficulties regulating behaviors and emotions. They may feel helpless, uncertain and anxious as to whether there is continued danger. These are expressed through loss of previously acquired developmental skills such as the loss of speech and toileting skills. They may experience a general fear that permeate other aspect of life and engage in traumatic play. They may be clingy and fearful of new situations, are easily frightened and difficult to console. They may be extremely threatened by separation from their parents-caregivers, even if these were the sources of their fears and danger. They may fear sleeping by themselves, and their sleep may be characterized by nightmares and night terrors (“Age-related reactions to a traumatic event”, n.d.). They may also present with strong startle reactions, impulsive and aggressive outbursts. The child may exhibit passivity, and yet is crying for help and desperately wishing for someone to save them or their family members.
Age-related reactions to a traumatic event. (n.d.). Retrieved from: http://www.nctsnet.org/sites/default/files/assets/pdfs/age_related_reactions_to_a_traumatic_event.pdf.
National Child Traumatic Stress Network. (2010). Early childhood trauma. Los Angeles, CA & Durham, NC: National Center for Child Traumatic Stress.
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