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How to identify trauma in children

02 July 2014, 11:50 Evans Munga

Parents have an unabated obligation to be duty bearers to their children. As a parent, information on developmental stages and their psychology is significant in raising children.

Children in terror-prone areas around the country have experienced trauma in one way or another, and this affects them in various ways. However, statistics show that many parents and guardians are unable to unravel what such children are going through.

Many school going children and young adults find it difficult to handle the traumatic exposures and they end up losing track of life. If such children do not see a professional counselor or therapist, such experiences affect their personality.

What is trauma?

Trauma refers to an experience that is emotionally painful, distressful, or shocking, which often has lasting mental and physical effects.

Emotional Trauma therefore contains three common elements:

1.    It was unexpected
2.    The child was unprepared
3.    There was nothing the child could do to prevent it from happening

It is not the EVENT that determines whether something is traumatic to someone but the individual’s EXPEREINCE of the event.

Too often, our world is shaken by traumatic events such as natural and manmade disasters including
•         Tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, floods), war,
•         School and community violence as well as acts of terrorism
•         Accidents, house fires and life-threatening illness
•         Separation and kidnappings
•         Sexual abuse and other forms of abuse

Children who are directly exposed to such events can become traumatised, and the emotional impact of trauma can last for a very long time if it goes unnoticed.

Some children are exposed to trauma indirectly through sensationalised or repetitive newscasts or by hearing and seeing others’ emotional reactions.

Children reactions to trauma

Under 6 years

•         Fear of being separated from the parent
•         Crying
•         Screaming
•         Immobility and /or aimless motion
•         Trembling
•         Frightened facial expressions and excessive clinging
•         Startled responses to loud & unusual noises
•         Disruption of sleep and toileting
•         Regressive behaviour
•         Post traumatic play
•         Repeated retelling of the event
•         Behaviour, mood and personality changes
•         Nightmares/terrors

6-11 years

•    Extreme withdrawal
•    Disruptive behaviour & inability to pay attention
•    Regressive behaviours
•    Nightmares/Terrors
•    Sleep problems
•    Irrational fears
•    Irritability
•    Refusal to attend school
•    Outbursts of anger & aggression
•    Emotional numbing
•    Self mutilation
•    Spacing out
•    Loss of interest in previously pleasurable activities
•    Concern about personal responsibility for trauma
•    Acute awareness of parental reactions & wish to  protect parents from their own distress
•    Frightened by the intensity of their own feelings
•    Vulnerability to  anniversary reactions set off by seasonal reminders, holidays and other events
•    Flashbacks
•    Emotional numbing
•    Avoidance of any reminders
•    Depression
•    Substance abuse
•    Problems with peers, antisocial behaviour
•    Withdrawal, isolation
•    Physical complaints
•    Suicidal thoughts
•    School avoidance, academic decline
•    Sleep disturbances and confusion
•    Extreme guilt over failure to prevent injury or loss and therefore the child may harbour revenge fantasies that interfere with recovery from the trauma.
•    Trauma driven acting out behaviour e.g. recklessness and risk taking
•    Effort to distance themselves from feeling ashamed, or guilt
•    Accident proneness
•    Acute awareness of and distress with intrusive imagery and memories of trauma
•    Flight into adulthood as a way of escaping impact and memory of trauma e.g early marriage, pregnancy, dropping out of school, abandoning peer groups for older set of friends.
•    Fear of growing up
•    Distress on encountering any reminders of the trauma

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