When talking about trauma or PTSD it is easy to conjure up an image of a soldier returning from war, but did you know that childhood trauma is one of the biggest epidemics facing Americans today?

Statistics from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) show that more than two thirds of American Children report some form of trauma before the age of 16. Traumatic events include, but are not limited to:

  • Psychological, physical, or sexual abuse
  • Community or school violence
  • Witnessing or experiencing domestic violence
  • National disasters or terrorism
  • Commercial sexual exploitation
  • Sudden or violent loss of a loved one
  • Refugee or war experiences
  • Military family-related stressors (e.g., deployment, parental loss or injury)
  • Physical or sexual assault
  • Neglect
  • Serious accidents or life-threatening illness

Knowing the signs of post-traumatic stress can help you in getting your child the help that they need, as early intervention shows the best results for treatment of post-traumatic symptoms.

According to SAMHSA the following are symptoms your child may display:

Preschool Children

  • Fear being separated from their parent/caregiver
  • Cry or scream a lot
  • Eat poorly or lose weight
  • Have nightmares

Elementary School Children

  • Become anxious or fearful
  • Feel guilt or shame
  • Have a hard time concentrating
  • Have difficulty sleeping

Middle and High School Children

  • Feel depressed or alone
  • Develop eating disorders or self-harming behaviors
  • Begin abusing alcohol or drugs
  • Become involved in risky sexual behavior

Intervention through therapy is one of the best ways to treat a child showing post-traumatic symptoms. One evidence-based treatment for childhood trauma is Trauma Focused Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT). In this model, the therapist works through different stages of treatment with the child to help them develop coping strategies, write and process their trauma narrative, develop meaning, and share their story with a trusted adult. In the TF-CBT model, therapists will focus on PRAC skills:

P- Psycho-education

R- Relaxation

  1. Affect Regulation

C- Cognitive Coping

After developing and mastering these skills, the therapist will then help the child develop a trauma narrative in which the child is able to narrate their story while the therapist documents it. Once the narrative is complete, the therapist helps the child to explore meaning in these traumatic events. The child then shares this narrative with a trusted and believing adult.

** The most important factor in success in the TF-CBT model is having an adult that believes their trauma. Denying or minimizing a child’s account of their trauma can be very damaging and set a child back in their treatment.

Lastly, the child develops a future safety plan to help them identify risky situations and identify how they can keep open communication with trusted adults.