Traumatic childhood stress

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Symptoms last longer than normal and may affect the child's daily life. No two children react to stress in the same way.

Possible causes

Children with traumatic stress have had one or more traumatic events during their life. Being involved in an accident or being the victim of violence can trigger traumatic stress. Even seeing something frightening can cause this kind of stress. Being in the hospital or going through medical treatments can also be a traumatic event for a child. Children who have had a trauma in the past are more likely to have symptoms if they have another traumatic event.

Be on the lookout for these symptoms

Children's reactions depend on a number of things. A child's age, personality, and support people in their lives affect their response. Their ability to understand things will affect how they move forward in daily life.

It can be normal for children to have stress and react when they return to the place where the trauma occurred. They can have the same response the first time they repeat the same thing they were doing when the trauma occurred. For example, if they have been involved in an automobile accident, the first time they ride in a car again may be very stressful for them. Their heart may race, and they may start to sweat or cry. This is a very normal first reaction.

Some fears and feelings of distress linger for a longer time. They can include:

  • Severe, ongoing emotional upset
  • Difficulty playing or talking with others
  • Extreme sadness
  • Feeling very numb
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty paying attention or "spacing out"
  • Learning problems and other difficulties at school
  • Fear of going to sleep
  • Nightmares or night terrors
  • Stomachaches, headaches or other physical pain

Child traumatic stress can be effectively treated by qualified clinicians. Early care may limit any long lasting problems with school, personal, social, or family life.