Tag Archives: Developmental Delay

Arrested Psychological Development and Age Regression

arrested psychological development

Arrested Psychological Development

Traumatic life events can cause the child to become ‘stuck’ at a particular level of psychological development for an extended period of time – s/he may, therefore, often seem immature as development was frozen at an earlier stage.

For example, an eleven year old child who was abandoned by his/her primary carer at age four may throw tantrums similar to those one might expect of a four year old when left with an unfamiliar baby-sitter. In other words, s/he may regress behaviorally to the developmental stage at which s/he became frozen. Such regressive behavior is a temporary reaction to real or perceived trauma.

age regression

Severe trauma can result in commensurately severe developmental delays. For example, a ten year old child who has experienced severe trauma may not yet have developed a conscience (even though a conscience usually develops around the of ages six to eight). This does NOT mean that the child is ‘bad’, it is just that s/he has not yet reached the relevant developmental stage. This can be rectified by the child identifying with a parent or carer and internalizing that identification.

It is vital to point out that if a child has never had the opportunity to identify with a safe and rational adult and has not, therefore, been able to internalize adult values, we cannot expect that child to have developed a conscience.

Indeed, if there has been little or no justice or predictability in the child’s life, and s/he is ill-treated for no discernible reason by adults in a position of trust, developing a conscience may not even have been in the child’s best interests. In extreme circumstances, for example, it may have been necessary for the child to lie, steal and cheat purely in order to survive; once s/he has learned such behaviors are necessary to his/her very survival, these same behaviors become extremely difficult to unlearn.

Below I list some of the main factors that may lead to arrested development.


separation from the primary care-giver

– all forms of abuse

– foster care



– parental alcohol/drug misuse


One of the main traumas a child can suffer is a problematic early relationship with the primary care- giver; these problems can include the primary care-giver having a mental illness, abusing alcohol/drugs, or otherwise abusing or abandoning the child. In such cases, attachment disorder is likely to occur in the child – this disorder can impair or even cripple a child’s ability to trust and bond with others. In such cases, it is the child’s ability to attach to other human beings which is impaired by developmental delays.

Since such a child’s development has essentially become frozen in relation to his/her ability to bond with others, s/he will not ‘grow out’ of the problem behaviors associated with attachment disorder without a great deal of emotional ‘repair work.’

the main examples of these are listed below :

little eye contact with parents

– lack of affection with parents

telling extremely obvious lies

– stealing

delays in learning

poor relationships with peers

cruelty to animals

lack of conscience

– preoccupation with fire

– very little impulse control /hyperactivity

– abnormal speech patterns

abnormal eating patterns

– inappropriate demanding behavior

inappropriate clingy behavior


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

Childhood Trauma : Reactions to Trauma According to Age



Trauma affects children in different ways depending upon the age group they fall into. In this article, I will look at how 3 different age groups may be affected ;These are :

– very young children (0-3 years)

– young children (4-11 years)

– adolescents


VERY YOUNG CHILDREN : it is a myth that just because very young children cannot verbalize the effect that trauma has on them, and often can’t understand the trauma, they are unaffected by it. On the contrary, this age group is extremely vulnerable and the effects of trauma on them can be very serious indeed.

Due to the fact that this age group is unable to explain the distress they feel in words, they may, instead, ‘act out’ their distress through their behaviour. I provide some examples below :

– fear of separation from the care-giver

– excessive displays of temper

– sadness

– anxiety/fearfulness

– irritability

– easily startled

– aggressive behaviour

– excessive crying

– excessive screaming

– very demanding of attention through both positive and negative behaviours

– development of new fears


The brains of children in this age group are developing very rapidly and, as such, their brain development is extremely vulnerable to being adversely affected.

Research shows that severe trauma at this stage of life can damage the development of the area of the brain known as the cortex. Damage done to the development of this part of the brain can lead to :

– inability to properly regulate (control) their emotions

– delays in language development

– impaired I.Q.

– problems relating to perception and awareness

– memory problems

– attentional difficulties

Finally, it should be pointed out that at this age children our utterly dependent on the emotional support of their primary care-giver. If this is not forthcoming the effects of trauma can be particularly severe.


YOUNG CHILDREN : The effect of trauma on children in this age group may result in :

– ‘traumatic play’ – this type of play tends to be repetitive and relates to the trauma, either directly or symbolically

– difficulty articulating the effect that the trauma has had upon them

– ‘developmental regression’ – this means reverting back to an earlier stage of development eg distress at having to be separated from parents in situations where this distress was not displayed prior to the trauma

– frequently feeling fearful in a variety of situations (not just those situations which relate to the original trauma)

– problems with sleep, which may include having nightmares and experiencing ‘night terrors’

– loss of speech

– bed-wetting

– constant concern for own safety and the safety of family members

– a compulsion to constantly re-tell the details of the traumatic experience

– difficulties concentrating at school

– inappropriate guilt and shame relating to the trauma

– reckless behaviour

– aggressive behaviour

– psychosomatic symptoms (ie symptoms brought on by stress with no obvious physical cause) eg headaches and stomach aches

ADOLESCENTS : The physical development of the brain is not complete until the mid-twenties. The adolescent brain and nervous system is, therefore, is especially vulnerable to the adverse effects of trauma. Damage to such development, in particular, has been linked to difficulties in regulating (controlling) emotions and difficulties forming and maintaining inter-personal relationships.

Adolescence, too, is a time of significant emotional growth, and, therefore, traumatic experiences at this crucial stage of life can have profound and very-long lasting effect upon the individuals view of the world, of others and of him/herself.

Other specific problems the adolescent may develop as a result of trauma include :

– reliance on alcohol/drugs to escape from mental anguish (this is also called ‘dissociation’ ; click here to read my article on dissociation).

– promiscuous sex (this can be another form of dissociation)

– ‘acting out’ feelings of distress (eg aggression, violence, anger) -click here to read my article relating to this

– self-destructive behaviour

– depression/anxiety

– withdrawal from family/friends

– repetitive fantasies of revenge

– post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – click here to read my article on this

– depression (click here to read my article on the link between childhood trauma and major depression)

– inappropriate guilt and shame (click here to read my article relating to this)

– feeling like a ‘bad’ person (click here to read my article on why this happens)


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