Below I list, and briefly describe, twelve traumatic experiences that may befall us in childhood (although they are in no particular order) :
1) The death of a person to whom the child has a strong emotional bond, especially a parent.
2) Divorce of parents, especially when the divorce is acrimonious.
3) Abuse (which may be emotional, sexual, physical or a combination of these).
4) Natural disasters (particularly those that make the child feel intensely helpless and vulnerable, expose the child to the threat of, or actual, severe danger or harm, or are life-threatening).
5) Violence: this may include witnessing a parent being physically assaulted (domestic violence), exposure to gun violence, war, gang violence and physical bullying.
6) Moving: this may be traumatic as it may entail the child having to change schools, leave old friends behind, make new friends (especially difficult for shy children, children who lack confidence and children with low self-esteem), adjust to a new location (and, possibly, even to a new culture), change schools etc. The stress of these changes is exacerbated by the fact that, usually, the child has no control over the move and may not have any say in the matter whatsoever, even if it will severely disrupt his/her life.
7) Medical Crisis: such as serious illness, major surgery or an extended stay in hospital
8) Related to the above is the trauma caused by having a serious accident, especially one that is life-threatening or leads to the child experiencing a protracted period of significant pain
9) Adoption: may involve the child having to adjust to new primary caregivers, a new location, loss of relationship with previous caregivers, loss of old friends and exposure to many other stressors.
10) Neglect: this may involve physical neglect and/or emotional neglect.
11) Growing up in poverty.
12) Growing up with a mentally ill parent.
WHY ARE CHILDREN PARTICULARLY VULNERABLE TO THE ADVERSE EFFECTS OF TRAUMA?
Children’s brains, because they are still developing, are particularly vulnerable to the effects of trauma. Often, however, the full, devastating impact does not become apparent until years after the traumatic experience which sometimes gives the illusion that children are resilient.
What factors can make a child less vulnerable to the adverse effects of trauma?
The most important factor that decreases a child’s vulnerability to adverse effects of trauma is to have a stable, emotionally supportive relationship with at least one primary caregiver (ideally a parent).
According to the researcher Edith Grotberg, an expert in the field of child resilience, children can derive strength to help them cope with trauma and adversity from three key sources; these are:
1) SOCIAL AND INTERPERSONAL SUPPORTS
2) INNER STRENGTHS
3) INTERPERSONAL AND PROBLEM SOLVING SKILLS
Let’s briefly examine each of these in turn :
– social and interpersonal supports include having :
- people around who are utterly trustworthy and love the child unconditionally
- people around who set the child a good example of how to behave
- people around that give the child boundaries to keep him/her safe
- people around who teach the child self-reliance and autonomy
- people around who are protective and nurturing towards the child
– inner strengths include:
- consideration for others
- a likeable personality
- a sense of personal responsibility
- an optimistic disposition
– interpersonal and problem-solving skills include:
- self-control / ability to control dangerous impulses
- willingness to discuss fears/problems/worries with others
- access to people who can help us solve problems
- ability to work out solutions to problems
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).