Saturday, October 12, 2013

5 Tips for Helping Children Cope with Early Childhood Trauma

I previously published a blog on trauma in children on Psychology Today.  Common forms of trauma include physical and sexual abuse, witnessing domestic and community violence, being separated from family members, and neglect.  According to the US Dept of Health and Human services (2013), child neglect is the most common trauma experienced by children.  Furthermore, children in the age group of birth to 1 year had the highest rate of victimization at 21.2 per 1,000 children ( DHHS, 2013) In regards to ethnicity, the most confirmed cases by CPS are among Whites (43.9%) followed by African-Americans (21.5 percent) and Hispanic Americans (22.1 percent).

Signs of Trauma in Young Children

Children’s reactions to trauma vary at different ages. Some of the common reactions of children are listed on the next page. If any of the behaviors or symptoms don’t improve or go away over time, it is important to seek professional help. Possible reactions to trauma may include:

  • Fear of being separated from parent
  • More clinging and dependent behaviors
  • More aggressive behaviors
  • More withdrawn behaviors showing little emotion
  • Aimless motion, disorganized behaviors, and or/freezing
  • Unable to comfort self
  • Difficulty falling asleep, night waking
  • May reenact scene in play
  • Problems with toileting (bedwetting, soiling)
  • Thumb sucking
  • Loss of language skills and acquired language
  • Memory problems 

Tips for Helping Children Cope with Trauma
  1. Avoid blaming the child or displaying your anger: It is important to remain calm and use a calm voice with talking with children about their traumatic experience. 
  2. Reassure the child that they will be safe: Many children fear for safety after experiencing trauma. It is important to let the child know that you will be present to support them. This may involve letting the child be aware of your whereabouts at all times.
  3. Don’t minimize the child’s feelings: Avoid telling the child to “Stop being a baby, don’t cry”. Normalize the child’s emotions at let them know that it’s okay to be sad.
  4. Follow the child’s lead: It’s okay to not encourage the child to talk about the trauma. However, it the child decided to open up to you be there to listen and support them.
  5. Help the child identify their feelings: It is important for children to talk about their hurt or sadness. It may be necessary to seek professional help from a psychologist or licensed mental health professional trained to deal with trauma.

Copyright 2013 Erlanger A. Turner, Ph.D.

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Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2013). Child Maltreatment 2011: Summary of key findings. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Children’s Bureau.

National Child Traumatic Stress Network (2010). Early Childhood Trauma Retrieved September 2013 from

Osofsky, J. Helping young children and families cope with trauma. Retrieved September 2013 from