Understanding Trauma in Children & Youth
Would you be able to recognize the symptoms of traumatic stress in children and teenagers? Do you understand the impact of trauma exposure on the developing brain and the effects on social, emotional, cognitive, and behavioral functioning? Do you know when and how to refer children and youth for trauma interventions in the community?
Fay and Krissie of KIFS recently attended a training at The University of Kentucky Center for Trauma and Children to expand their understanding of the effects of trauma on children and youth.
The training consisted of highlighting the 12 Core Concepts associated with trauma in order to help attendees better understand the lasting effects of trauma and how to recognize trauma associated behaviors. Traumatic events overwhelm a child’s capacity to cope and may elicit feelings of terror, powerlessness, and out-of-control psychological arousal. As caregivers it is important to understand the underlying causes of stress reactions that stem from trauma. Below is a recap of the training.
How Youth Respond to Trauma: Traumatic Stress Reactions
Intrusions - Nightmares and flashbacks
Avoidance - May spend a lot of energy to avoid feeling through suppression and then emotions come out in unexpected, sudden ways
Negative Alteration in Cognition & Mood - Inability to remember events around trauma, difficulty experiencing positive and/or joyful moments.
Hyperarousal/Reactivity - Jumpiness, problems sleeping, aggressive behaviors, self-destructive behaviors
12 CORE CONCEPTS
Complexity - Trauma experiences are inherently complex.
Context - Trauma occurs within a broad context that includes children’s personal characteristics, life experiences, and current circumstances.
Adversities - Traumatic experiences often generate secondary adversities, life stressors, and distressing reminders in children’s daily life.
Things, events, situations, places, sensations, and people that a person consciously or unconsciously connects with a traumatic event.
Hospitals, judges, police, social workers, sounds
Reactions - Children exhibit a wide range of reactions to trauma and loss
Survival coping - a response to facing ongoing trauma exposure and having limited resources to draw on to cope with those ongoing threats.
Strategies are adaptive and offer self-protection in the moment and can include: Hoarding, poor hygiene, indiscriminate attachment, avoidantly attached
Over time, these strategies create difficulties in social, emotional and behavioral functioning.
Perceived as intentional, willfulness, stubbornness, indifference, and malice.
5. Danger - Danger and safety are core concerns in the lives of traumatized children
Human brain and body are geared to recognize and respond to danger
Danger takes priority over normal activities of daily functioning
Culture helps define the appraisal of threat and possible responses
Experience shapes the world
Restoration of safety
6. Family - Trauma experiences affect the family and broader caregiving system
7. Impact - Reducing the adverse impact of trauma
Structure and routine
Hobbies and talents
8. Development - Trauma and post trauma adversities can influence development - Read more: Child Abuse May Change Brain Structure and Make Depression Worse
When children endure multiple traumatic events over a long period they are likely to have multiple gaps in their development
9. Fight, Flight, or Freeze - Developmental neurobiology underlies children’s reactions to traumatic experiences
10. Culture - Culture is closely interwoven with traumatic experiences, response and recovery. Cultural influences include:
11. Social Contract - Challenges to the social contract, including legal and ethical issues affect trauma response and recovery
How do people respond? Not respond?
12. Secondary Traumatic Stress (STS) - Working with trauma exposed children can evoke distress in providers that makes it difficult for them to provide good care. STS is also known as compassion fatigue.
STS is complicated by work load and institutional stress but requires indirect exposure to traumatic material
STS can disrupt professional’s lives, feelings, personal relationships, and overall view of the world
Sources of STS include:
Reading about an adolescent’s lengthy history of foster and residential placements
Witnessing a child engage in violent or sexual play themes
Suspecting a child is being sexually abused but being unable to substantiate
Hearing a child’s account of domestic violence in the home
Hearing about a child fatality at work
Removing a child who has been significantly injured
To learn more about traumatic stress, find resources, and connect visit The Center on Trauma and Children
Signs of STS:
Illness, headaches, tense muscles, stomachaches, sleep difficulties
Inability to embrace complexity
Social withdrawal, factionalism
Loss of creativity
Hopelessness, helplessness, feeling overwhelmed
Insensitivity to violence and injustice