Violence effects on kids
According to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN), childhood trauma can affect children from newborn to 6-years-old. Many may think that because they are so young they wouldn’t recall traumatic events in their lives, but it’s the opposite.
Judy Petrushka, domestic violence outreach specialist at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove, Ill., says that childhood trauma can cause long-term damage to a child, but is not irreversible.
“Childhood trauma can be any negative experience that causes major stress for an infant or child,” she says. “Family violence is especially traumatic for children because they potentially have one caregiver that is scary and the other is unable to protect him or herself.”
Petrushka says that this type of situation leaves the child feeling unsafe and chronically stressed.
“It can impact a young child’s brain development, leading to all kinds of difficulties. The child might have trouble soothing themselves, they might be aggressive, and they may have difficulty sleeping or focusing in school,” she says. “They are perpetually in survival mode and it can also impact health.
The NCTSN says that when kids are affected by childhood trauma they may be fearful of new situations, are emotional and find it difficult to manage their feelings and aggression.
“Children who experience trauma are more likely to have a variety of health problems,” Petrushka says. “This can include bedwetting, stomach problems, headaches, depression and anxiety. Teens may engage in risky sexual behaviors or start using drugs or alcohol at an early age to numb their feelings.”
So how can you do to help your child?
From the Amazing Brain: Trauma and the potential for healing, by Linda Burgess Chamberlain, PhD, MPH, she says: “Healthy relationships with a caring adult can protect children from the effects of trauma. Opportunities for children to talk or play out their feelings about the trauma can start the healing process. Allow a child to tell their story without pressuring them to talk.”
Additionally, children need to know they are not to blame, Petrushka says, they need structure and predictability in daily routines, and reduced exposure to violence TV, movies and video games.
With tragic events in the media, and scary life events taking place in the home or down the street, Petrushka says the following are just a few of the ways to help your child.
- Respond to children’s questions in a way that they can understand and know what is happening.
- Encourage fun and healthy activities to keep their mind busy on positive things.
- Take the time to talk to the child about their feelings.
- Keep a balanced schedule with time for activities, sleep and family gatherings.
- Create family safety plans that they can easily understand.
Petrushka says there are scary events that children may not be able to avoid, such as seeing family violence, the loss of a caregiver, natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina, witnessing violence in community (shootings, violent acts, etc.)
“It’s important for parents to take an active role in educating their children and protecting them from these things when possible,” she says. Programs like the Advocate Childhood Trauma Treatment Program provide a range of specialized services for children, teens and families that have experienced sexual abuse and maltreatment.
If you live in the Chicagoland area, attend a free symposium for health care and social service providers on Wednesday, April 16, entitled “The Impact of Trauma and Neglect on the Developing Child,” featuring Dr. Bruce Perry, who is the Senior Fellow of the ChildTrauma Academy and adjunct Professor at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University. Click here to register.
About the Author
Sarah Scroggins, health enews contributor, is the director of social media at Advocate Aurora Health. She has a BA and MA in Communications. When not on social media, she loves reading a good book (or audiobook), watching the latest Netflix series and teaching a college night class.