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How Does Trauma Effect Children and Adolescents?

What is trauma? Trauma is defined as a deeply distressing or disturbing experience. Trauma can occur at any time in an individual’s life. Not all traumatic events leave visible marks on the individual’s body. Trauma can be held in the body leaving lasting effects emotionally and psychologically even when physical marks are not seen.

Children and adolescents have an especially hard time processing their trauma with words as they have not reached emotional maturity.  This limits the ability to completely understand and process the traumatic event. Children hold their trauma within their body. Their response to the traumatic event may be displayed in the form of sadness, anger, isolation, withdrawn affect, anxiety, reduction in sleep, nightmares, failing school, and /or bed wetting.

When humans are presented with a threatening event, our natural response is to initiate the Fight, Flight or Freeze response. Young children tend to demonstrate the flight or freeze response, rather than the fight type of response, as their brains are still developing and mapping out what is safe and unsafe. Adolescent age individuals have further developed brain mapping of what is safe and what is unsafe. The igniting of the Fight, Flight or Freeze response in an individual who has reached adolescent maturity may allow for further evaluation of a traumatic situation and opt for a different response than a child.

Therapy is vital for individuals who have been through traumatic events. Therapy allows the individual to tell their trauma narrative and work through emotions associated with the trauma. Children and Adolescents can struggle telling their trauma narrative. Therapists working with children and adolescents who have experienced a traumatic event will utilize different modalities to help the individual tell their trauma narrative and work through the emotions associated with the trauma.

Play Therapy is a natural way for  children to explore their trauma. Play is innate for all children. During play therapy, children will use a variety of toys such as dolls, puppets and figurines to act out the trauma or other events they have been exposed to. During play therapy, children can switch roles to further explore their feelings. The use of toys allow the transfer of negative feelings to begin processing the traumatic events. During the therapeutic process, the therapist allows the child/adolescent to lead the session through their play and expression of feelings. Using a therapeutic modality such as play therapy can provide the forum for healing and recovery.

If your child has experienced trauma, please contact The Center For Collaborative Counseling and Psychiatry at 847-440-2281. We are here to help you through this difficult time.