How Context Affects The Child’s Reaction To Trauma

Traumatic childhood experiences, obviously, do not occur in a vacuum but within the context of the child’s life as a whole. All elements of this context will interact with the direct effects of the traumatic experience. These elements can be divided into two broad categories :

1. The child’s own, personal qualities (sometimes referred to as ‘child-intrinsic’ factors):

Examples of these include the child’s temperament (i.e. innate and enduring personality traits present from birth, such as proneness to anxiety) ; the state of the child’s mental health prior to the traumatic experiences; and whether or not he has experienced prior, significant trauma (the negative impact of childhood trauma is cumulative – see the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study.

2. Qualities relating to the child’s environment (sometimes referred to as ‘child-extrinsic’ factors) :

Examples include the child’s family (e.g. if one parent is abusive, is there another family member / extended family member to whom he [i.e. the child] can turn for emotional support?) ; the physical environment (e.g. Is the home overcrowded? Does it lack educational / leisure resources?) ; the community within which the child lives (e.g. are youth clubs available to the child that could have a positive influence on his mental health?); and the culture surrounding the child (e.g. cultural influences upon the level of stigma associated with the cause of the trauma, if any).


The positive factors listed above (in both categories) are likely to increase the child’s resilience to the adverse effects of the trauma (in relation to this, you might be interested in reading my previously published article entitled Ten Ways To Build Resilience), whereas the negative factors are likely to increase his vulnerability to these potential, adverse effects.

In combination, the elements will interactively affect how the child perceives and, therefore, how he internally experiences, the traumatic events he undergoes, including the degree to which he feels under threat and in danger and the extent to which he feels safe and protected.



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