The Effects on Children

Effects on Children

  • Children and adolescents’ reactions to traumatic events will include their own individual experience of the event (what they saw, what they heard, etc.) and the crisis reactions they witness in the adults around them (parents, teachers, neighbors, etc). As with adults, a child’s distress can manifest itself in a number of ways. Some of these reactions are listed below.

PRE-SCHOOL: Ages 2-6 years

  • Aggressive behavior, hyperactivity
  • Anxiety about separation from parent or other caretaker
  • Silence, withdrawal from others
  • Regression: may refuse to feed, dress, wash self, may lapse in toilet training, bedwetting
  • Sleep disturbance, nightmares; fears of darkness, “monsters”, strangers
  • Physical reactions: loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, tics
  • Re-enactments/play about the recent event
  • Inability to understand death and its permanency; eg. the child may talk about return of deceased
  • Increase in anxiety, insecurity with changes in routine

EARLY CHILDHOOD: Ages 6-10 years

  • Behavioral changes may occur – either quieter, lethargic, withdrawn, or active, noisy
  • Fantasies about traumatic event with “savior” ending
  • Regressive reactions including excessive clinging, crying, whimpering, wanting to be fed or dressed
  • Complaints of headaches, stomach aches, nausea, persistent itching, scratching
  • Sleep disturbance, nightmares, night terrors, bedwetting
  • Irritability. Disobedience
  • School phobia; inability to concentrate with drop in school achievement
  • Competition with siblings for parental attention
  • Decreased trust in adults
  • Displaced fears, eg. not feeling safe in place where there’s no immediate threat

PREADOLESCENT: Ages 11-14 years

  • Anger at unfairness of event
  • More childlike in attitude
  • Disruptive behavior; resistance to authority
  • Increased difficulty relating to siblings, teachers, parents
  • Loss of interest in peer activities
  • Psychosomatic illness such as: headaches, complaints of vague aches, overeating or lack of appetite, stomach aches, bowel problems, skin disorders
  • Sleep disturbances including excessive sleep
  • Judgmental about own behavior especially when close connection to violence or trauma
  • Anti-social behavior eg. lying, stealing
  • Sadness or depression; may believe existence is meaningless
  • Drop in level of school performance, attendance
  • Alcohol, drug abuse
  • High risk behaviors including unprotected sex

ADOLESCENT: Ages 15-18 years

  • Accelerated entry into adult world in effort to gain some control over environment
  • Feelings of anger, shame, betrayal; act out frustration through rebellious acts
  • Judgmental about behavior of others as well as their own
  • Anti-social behavior, eg. stealing, vandalism
  • Alcohol, drug abuse; decreased impulse control
  • High risk behaviors including speeding, unprotected sex
  • Psychosomatic illness: bowel and bladder complaints, headaches, skin disorders
  • Sleep and/or eating disorders
  • Vague physical complaints or exaggerated fears of physical problems
  • Painful menses or cessation of menses
  • Isolation; withdrawal from peers and family
  • Feelings of inadequacy, depression, hopelessness, helplessness
  • Suicidal thoughts, gestures
  • Revenge, wish to “get even”
  • Marked increase or decrease in physical activity
  • Decline in social interests and activities
  • Foreboding of another tragedy leading to sense of foreshortened future