Child Abuse Prevention Month: The impact of Childhood Trauma — warning signs and how to help.

Child Abuse Prevention Month: The impact of Childhood Trauma — warning signs and how to help.



By Kaitlyn Bailey Wilson, MSW
School Social Worker, Floyd County Schools

This is the third of four articles posting Mondays in April about Child Abuse Prevention Month authored by representatives from local child abuse prevention agencies. Also: Please join these representatives to discuss child abuse prevention at 7:40 a.m. Monday on Hometown Headlines Radio Edition on WRGA 98.7 FM and online at

Imagine yourself as a 7-year-old child sitting in a classroom, full of children clearly excited about being there, with a teacher who is nurturing and kind to everyone. You’re tired and can’t concentrate because you were up all night listening to your parents fight. The teacher asks you to turn in your homework and you realize that you don’t have it because no one would sit down to help you with it last night. You snap at another child when asked about why you don’t have your homework. To onlookers, you have anger or depression issues. But in reality, you’re experiencing the ongoing effects of childhood trauma.

Childhood trauma is a response to a negative external event or series of events which surpasses the child’s ordinary coping skills. Research shows that 26 percent of children will witness or experience a traumatic event before the age of 4 and 1 out of every 4 children attending schools has been exposed to a traumatic event that can affect learning and/or behavior. Exposure to trauma can impact brain development and impact the child’s ability to manage stress.  Vulnerability to stress increases the likelihood of engaging in risky behaviors such as: smoking, drug/alcohol abuse, overeating, promiscuity, dropping out of school and unhealthy relationships.

Causes of trauma include neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, homelessness, as well as exposure to domestic violence, substance abuse and prenatal trauma (e.g. substance exposure). Studies show that exposure to family violence affects the brains of children in much the same way combat affects soldiers.

What are signs that a child is experiencing trauma?

A child may exhibit irritability, restlessness, difficulty concentrating, anger/energy outbursts, apathetic mood, self-harming behaviors/thoughts, aggression, helplessness, and isolation. Feelings of fear, anxiety, depression, hopelessness, and confusion are also signs.

Children may have poor attendance or poor academic performance.  They may exhibit these behaviors when there is a sudden change, a feeling of rejection/loneliness, confrontation, or loud noises/environments. Children may experience somatic symptoms or have trust issues and difficulty bonding with peers/adults.

Traumatic grief can occur when a reminder becomes a trigger. For example: a police siren might remind a child of the siren he or she heard the night a parent died, was arrested, etc. This video offers an illustration of the effects of childhood trauma:

How can you help a child who shows signs of trauma?

Reassure the child that he or she is safe and that it is not his or her fault that the traumatic event happened. Don’t pressure them to talk, but allow for sharing at their own pace.   Avoid loud noises and loud environments if possible. Listen patiently. Be positive and control your own emotions when hearing of the traumatic event.

Keep the child active, avoid isolation, and make sure they are getting enough sleep and a healthy diet. Practice stress-relieving techniques such as yoga or deep-breathing exercises. Manage your own stress and maintain a stress-free environment and home. Create and maintain routines. Keep promises made.   Seek professional help as needed.

If you or a child you love need help to manage stress or desire extra family support, talk with your child’s school counselor for a referral.  You can also contact the Exchange Club Family Resource Center for help in identifying community resources. Call them at 706-290-0764 or download their “Community Resources List” from their website. To learn more about children and trauma, visit or


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