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Symptoms of Trauma

When something traumatic happens to a child, a sense of safety and security can be stripped away.  A child may be left with overwhelming feelings of a loss of power. Many of a child’s post-traumatic symptoms are dysfunctional attempts to regain a sense of control or safety within his environment.

Physical Effects

Traumatized children can experience a variety of psychosomatic symptoms:

  • Headaches, stomachaches, dizziness or shortness of breath. 

  • Excessive fatigue or excess energy

  • Marked change in eating habits

  • Regressive behavior

  • Increased sensitivity to touch

  • Decreased reactivity to physical injury

Psychosomatic symptoms are the body’s way of complaining about the post-traumatic stress that it is being required to contain.  A full medical evaluation should be conducted to rule out any physiological causes. 

Behavioral Effects of Trauma

Nightmares and Night Terrors

  • Nightmares – child usually wakes on their own, remembers details and seeks comfort.  The child is easily soothed and falls back to sleep easily. 

  • Night Terrors – occur usually within two hours of falling asleep.  It can be difficult to wake a child out of a night terror and waking is not advised.


  • Traumatized children are always listening, always watching and consequently exhausted by their felt need to remain on alert.

Heightened Irritability

  • The irritability must be a substantial change from the child’s previous functioning.

Increased Reliance on Caregivers

  • A child who was previously independent may develop a regressive dependence on the parent that includes whining, clinging behavior and difficulty with separations.


  • Children who have experienced a traumatic event may avoid all reminders of that event. 

Risk-taking behavior  

Cognitive Effects/Thought Life Issues

Difficulty concentrating, distractibility and a short attention span

Develop distinctive fears of specific worries that did not trouble them before the trauma

  • Traumatized children may perseverate on a certain aspect of the trauma or develop repetitive maladaptive thoughts in response to their traumatic events.


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