Understanding childhood traumas
By: Laraibah Hamid Bhat
Notwithstanding the fact that most people consider that things of past can be brushed aside easily, childhood traumas are undoubtedly much severe and have a lifelong impression on a person. Kids may appear resilient but they’re not made of stone and something that goes into their emotional as well as rational brain circuits remains in the system for a very long time. That’s not to say your child will be emotionally marred for life if they experience any terrifying incident but it’s significant to acknowledge when your child needs professional help to deal with traumas. Early treatment may prevent your child from enduring the ongoing consequences of the trauma as an adult.
Many different experiences can constitute and define trauma. Childhood trauma is any episode experienced by a child that jeopardizes their life by way of emotional hurt or physical abuse. Physical, emotional or sexual abuse can be evidently traumatic for children. One-time events like a car accident, natural disaster, death of a dear one, separation from a parent, broken family or medical trauma can take a psychological toll on children as well. Living in a dangerous neighbourhood or being the victim of bullying, living in any war torn area or any area of political conflict can be traumatic even if it just feels like a routine.
Childhood trauma also doesn’t have to occur in a flash to a child. For example, watching a loved one endure any pain or suffer anyway can be highly traumatic. Being vulnerable to violent media content can also traumatize children which is very common nowadays. Just because an experience is upsetting, doesn’t make it traumatic. For instance Parental divorce, will likely affect a child but it isn’t necessarily traumatizing.
At one point of life or another, many children are exposed to traumatic events. While most of the children experience psychological suffering after a traumatic event, the majority of them resume the normal way of functioning in a certain period of time. Some kids are much less resilient and thus least affected by their circumstances than others. As shown by a survey, between 3% and 15% of girls and 1% to 6% of boys— develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PSTD) following a traumatic event.
It has been observed that the children with PTSD, re-experience the trauma in their minds over and over again. They may also try to ward off anything that reminds them of the trauma happened. They may need someone very close and reliable to share the traumatizing experiences.
Some children doubt themselves for they have missed the warning signs predicting the traumatic event and attempt to prevent future traumas by becoming hyper-vigilant for warning signs that something awful or severely sad incident is going to happen again.
Children with PTSD may also have problems with Anger and aggression, anxiety, depression, difficulty trusting others, fear, feelings of isolation, poor self-esteem, self-destructive behavior, lack of self-confidence and self-belief, insomnia and nightmares besides physical issues including muscle tension. Those children who don’t develop PTSD may still exhibit emotional and behavioral issues following a traumatic experience including anger issues, attention problems, changes in appetite, development of new fears, increased thoughts about death or safety, irritability, loss of interest in normal activities etc besides general sadness that they may experience.
Traumatic events can affect the brain development of a child and that can have lifelong effects. A study published in 2015 showed that the more adverse childhood experiences a person has, the higher their risk of health and wellness problems later in life develop. Childhood trauma may increase an individual’s risk of Asthma, Coronary heart disease, Depression, Diabetes and even Stroke.
A study published in 2016 in ‘Psychiatric Times’ noted that the prevalence of suicide attempts was significantly higher in adults who experienced trauma, such as physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, and parental domestic violence, as a child.
A child’s relationship with their caregiver- be it their parents, grandparents or any guardian- is critical to their emotional and physical well-being. Good relationships and attachment help the children gain the knowledge to trust others, handle emotions well and interact with the world around them which was otherwise scary owing to the trauma. When a child goes through a trauma that instructs them that they cannot rely on a caregiver, they start believing that the world around them is a scary and unsafe place to dwell and all adults are dangerous and a strong sense of insecurity develops in them—and that makes it incredibly difficult to form relationships throughout their childhood, including with peers their own age and in the adult years as well.
Children who struggle to maintain healthy attachments to caregivers are also likely to struggle with romantic relationships during adulthood. This struggle is eased if such children as adults, find an understanding, caring, intellectual and reliable partner in their life.
Family support can be key to reducing the impact trauma has on a child. The parents, peers, friends and caregivers must encourage a child to talk about his/her feelings and validate their emotions. They must answer questions honestly and reassure their child about safety and security besides encouraging them to stick to a daily routine as much as possible. It is important to befriend your child before any bad person lends hand and puts them on a wrong path as children have fragile heart, only a good parenthood can help them overcome the trauma.
Psychological trauma can leave you struggling with upsetting emotions, memories and anxiety that won’t go away. Traumatic experiences often involve a threat to life or safety, but any situation that leaves you feeling overwhelmed and isolated can result in trauma, even if it doesn’t involve physical harm.
In such scenario, do not isolate them and be available to talk, be understanding, patient and comprehensive. Healing from such traumas may take time and the pace of recovery may be slow and also every person’s response to trauma is different. Don’t be judgmental to your loved one’s reaction against your own response or anyone else’s and offer practical support to them to get them back into a normal life. That may mean helping with work and simply being available to talk or listen.
Don’t pressurize your dear one into conversation but be available if they want to talk. Some find it difficult to talk about what happened. Don’t force your loved one to open up but let them know you are there to listen if they want to talk. Help them to socialize and relax and encourage them to take part in physical exercise, seek out friends and pursue hobbies and other social activities that bring them peace. Take them to a fitness class.
Such children may become angry, irritable, withdrawn, or emotionally distant and one must remember that this is a result of the trauma and may not have anything to do with the current phase of their lives.
The writer is Research Scholar, NCB-GATE, Department of Zoology, University of Kashmir.