How Childhood Trauma Can Disrupt Developmental Progress

disruption of childhood development

What Is Meant By Childhood Development?

We can define childhood development as a complex process of developing competences and attaining achievements from early childhood through to adolescence / early adulthood. These fall into the following main categories :

– physical

– emotional

– social

– intellectual / cognitive

– moral

Young Child :

During early childhood developmental tasks include :

  • building a sense of trust

  • learning to separate from parents (e.g. when starting school)

  • learning to adapt to peer group

  • learning to adapt to authority figures

  • development of feeling of safety away from the home

  • development of friendships

  • development of thinking / cognitive / intellectual abilities

  • development of self-esteem

disrupted childhood development


Adolescence :

During adolescence boys and girls experience 6 main developmental tasks. These are :

  • maintaining progress towards independence

  • solidifying a capacity for meaningful relationships

  • clarification of a sense of sexual identity

  • development of interests and competencies

  • internalization of moral values

  • development of autonomy

Timing :

How the child is affected will depend upon the timing of the trauma (and its adverse consequences) and at which stage of the developmental process the child is at at this time. Depending upon this timing the child may develop problems relating to attachment (such as reactive attachment disorder, disorganized attachment disorder or insecure attachment), separation anxiety, psychosexual issues and social issues such as problems with peer relationships. However, any of the developmental tasks referred to above may be adversely affected.

If traumatic experiences coincide with critical developmental transitions, such transitions may be jeopardized ; how these ill-effects manifest themselves is subject to great variability – see below :

  • development may be interrupted

  • development may be delayed

  • development may be arrested (e.g. a traumatized teenager’s emotional development might get stuck at, say, thirteen)

  • the child may regress to an earlier stage of development (e.g. a toilet trained toddler might start having accidents)

  • a developmental stage may be accelerated / the child may undergo precocious development

Mastery :

Mastering these stages / developmental tasks are necessary for an emotionally and psychologically healthy adult life, and, because they require much psychic energy are largely dependent upon a safe, stable, supportive and nurturing environment.

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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

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About David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE)

Psychologist, researcher and educationalist.

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