Children and Trauma

Children and Trauma

Trauma in childhood is a grave psychosocial, medical, and public policy problem that has serious consequences for its victims and for society. Chronic interpersonal violence in children is common worldwide. Trauma in childhood has serious consequences for its victims and for society.

For the purposes of this critical review, childhood trauma is defined according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV and V as exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence.[1] Young children depend exclusively on parents/caregivers for survival and protection—both physical and emotional. When trauma also impacts the parent/caregiver, the relationship between that person and the child may be strongly affected.

As with older children, young children experience both behavioral and physiological symptoms associated with trauma. Unlike older children, young children cannot express in words whether they feel afraid, overwhelmed, or helpless. Young children suffering from traumatic stress symptoms generally have difficulty regulating their behaviors and emotions. They may be clingy and fearful of new situations, easily frightened, difficult to console, and/or aggressive and impulsive. They may also have difficulty sleeping, lose recently acquired developmental skills, and show regression in functioning and behavior.

The effects of traumatic experiences on young children are sobering, but not all children are affected in the same way, nor to the same degree. Children and families possess competencies, psychological resources, and resilience–often even in the face of significant trauma–that can protect them from long-term harm. Research on resilience in children demonstrates that an essential protective factor is the reliable presence of a positive, caring, and protective parent or caregiver, who can help shield children against adverse experiences. They can be a consistent resource for their children, encouraging them to talk about their experiences, and they can provide reassurance to their children that the adults in their lives are working to keep them safe.

University of Minnesota provides a course ‘Resilience in children exposed to trauma, disaster and war: global perspectives’ teaches child trauma and how the science of resilience contributes in understanding the risks and insights of such experiences. Further it helps how research is being applied in the real world through interventions that promote resilience, and engage in discussions with others who are working with children at risk around the world. For youngsters, difficulties and difficult stretches incorporate encounters like beginning at another everyday schedule, moving house, or inviting a kin into the family. They can likewise incorporate genuine encounters like being harassed, family breakdown, family sickness or demise.

Kids fabricate strength over the long run through resilience. One can assist their children with mastering abilities and foster versatility by having a warm, strong relationship with them. Children  who are strong can recuperate from misfortunes and traumatic experiences and return to carrying on with their lives all the more rapidly. Furthermore when they beat the traumatic experiences and issues, it constructs their certainty and assists them with feeling more able the following opportunity an issue comes up.

Resilient and versatile youngsters are regularly great at taking care of issues and mastering new abilities. This is on the grounds that they’re more able to attempt again regardless of whether things exceed all expectations need the initial time.

Furthermore when things turn out poorly and children feel restless, pitiful, disillusioned, apprehensive or disappointed, resilience assists them with understanding that these depressed and suffered feelings for the most part don’t keep going forever. They can encounter these feelings and realize they’ll be OK sooner rather than later.

Children who have become resilient are less inclined to stay away from issues or manage them in undesirable ways, such as getting guarded or forceful or deliberately harming themselves. Tough children are likewise prone to have preferable physical and emotional well-being over kids who battle to be strong. Kids learn resilience through experience. And it is not a trait, not a stable one, but it is a dynamic process. Resilience as a dynamic process of adaptation can potentially be trained. For resilience, there are Interventions with the stated primary aim of preventing mental health problems or promoting mental health and that included a measure of mental health (defined as depression, anxiety disorders, social or emotional wellbeing, eating disorders, substance use [alcohol or other drugs but not smoking], conduct disorders/behaviour problems [including violence or aggression but not criminal behaviour] and suicide). There is cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT)-based interventions (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) with or without other components. psychological interventions for the prevention of depression in young people, particularly CBT-based interventions. Interventions conducted in multiple settings and interventions conducted in schools both show benefits. Online interventions also show promise. Evidence supports both targeted and universal programs.

A review of interventions designed to build resilience (whether these were resilience-specific or mental health problem-specific) found a diverse range of studies focusing on the impact of interventions on young people’s behaviour, emotional functioning, or presenting issues. A substantial number of resilience-specific studies assessed psychiatric symptoms (most commonly depression, followed by anxiety), the absence or reduction of which often seemed to serve as a proxy for measuring resilience. Because of this, some of these interventions are also included in systematic reviews of studies which to aim prevent mental health problems.

The most common types of interventions were CBT-based and skills-based psychoeducation interventions, targeted to young people and their parents. Many of these interventions showed beneficial effects in promoting resilience and reducing the risk of developing mental health problems. While some studies attempted to assess the impact of other types of intervention, particularly those focused on developing skills and strengths (most notably school-based social and emotional learning interventions), many of the studies of their effectiveness were of low quality and there is a need for further research to determine the true effectiveness of strengths-based interventions, particularly those appropriate for the Australian context. There is also a need for further work to specifically define and operationalise indicators of resilience at all levels of analysis and to strengthen research- policy linkages in the area.

Research in the area of resilience is complicated by the diversity of ways in which the construct is defined and measured. Different research groups have considered resilience within different risk settings, examined the impact of different protective processes, and defined resilient outcomes according to different criteria. In considering the research evidence,[2]  have emphasised the need to avoid confusion between resilience as an outcome of adaptation (maintenance of functionality in the face of adversity) and as a process of adaptation (assessment of a range of risk and protective mechanisms that act to mediate the effects of adversity), while emphasising that both approaches have something to offer the field. Given its complexity, it is likely that building resilience requires a focus on both the provision of opportunities to develop personal resources, as well as access to protective factors in the social environment. Thus, some resilience interventions focus on intervening at the individual level while others focus on other ecological levels, typically the family or community levels.[3] Thus, an effective resilience intervention may be defined as one that has beneficial effects on mental health, functional capacity and social competence or as one that is aimed at developing an individual’s internal resources and skills and/or changing social environments to further promote wellbeing.

Trauma-informed programs, institutions, and service systems are critical to promoting and fostering resilience in all children, and particularly those who have experienced trauma.

Additionally, as programs make their services more trauma-informed, it is important that they promote self-care to prevent or address secondary trauma among adults working with children who have experienced trauma.

[1] American Psychiatric Association . Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: Fourth Edition Text Revision.American Psychiatric Press; Washington D.C: 2000.

[2] Olsson et al, 2003

[3] Wright, T. (2014). Too scared to learn: Teaching young children who have experienced trauma: Research in review. Young Children, 69(5), 88–93

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    Maahika Shekhar

    Jindal Global Law School
    B.A (Hons.) Legal Studies

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