Large numbers of children are impacted by emotional trauma, some of which is chronic and recurring. Current surveys and research suggest that 25 to 33% of children experience sexual abuse. Over 50% of children live with parents who have divorced or separated. The ACE studies indicate that categories of trauma related to serious family dysfunction tend to cluster together, so that a child with one category of trauma is likely to be experiencing several other categories. These types of child trauma include; addiction of a family member, criminal behavior by a family member, physical abuse, emotional abuse, physical neglect and emotional neglect.
Warning Behaviors of Child Trauma
Emotional child trauma can produce a variety of abnormal behaviors, some of which are easy to recognize and some of which are not. Freeze states in children often go unnoticed because a traumatized child who enters freeze states when threatened will become silent, still, and try to be “invisible.” Teachers and other adult caregivers may notice that such a child cannot seem to remember of follow instructions or perform abstract thinking tasks–but they are more likely to assume the child just isn’t paying attention or isn’t trying, or has a learning disability.
On the other end of the child trauma spectrum, children who enter a “flight or fight” arousal state when they are threatened are likely to be hypervigilant, restless, reactive and distracted–and also can’t remember directions or perform abstract thinking tasks. But these children are likely to just be labelled “hyperactive” or “Attention Deficit Disorder” (ADD).
The emotional reactivity created by child trauma may invite labels such as “conduct disorder” and “anger management problems”, and yet the underlying and sometimes ongoing child trauma may remain unrecognized.
Although there are many behavioral or academic problems in children that are not attributable to trauma, many child trauma symptoms go unrecognized or are undiagnosed. Find out more about child trauma symptoms, how to identify them, and how to address them.