Child and adolescent traumatic stress

What is a traumatic event?

A traumatic event is a dangerous, frightening or violent event that presents a threat to a child’s life or physical integrity. When children witness a traumatic event that threatens their physical security, their experience or the loss of a loved one it can be very distressing. This is important for the children as their sense of safety will depend on the assumed safety of their attachment figures.

Traumatic experiences can bring on strong physical reactions and emotions that can persist for a long time after the event. Children can feel fear, helplessness, terror and physiological responses such as vomiting, loss of bladder and bowel control and heart pounding. Children who experience a lack of ability to protect themselves or who previously lacked protection from those around them to avoid the aftereffects of the distressing experience may also feel exhausted by the intensity of the emotional and physical responses.

Adults work hard to keep their children safe, traumatic experiences still happen. The danger can come from outside the family like a car accident, natural disaster, community violence, school shooting or abuse such as domestic violence, sexual and physical abuse.

What experiences may be traumatic for children and teens?

• Community or family violence
• Natural or technological terrorism and disasters
• Sexual, physical and psychological neglect and abuse
• Violent or sudden loss of someone close
• Substance use disorder familial or personal
• Serious accident
• Life-threatening illness
• Military family-related stress such as injury, parental loss and deployment

When children are exposed to these situations where they may have been fearful of their lives, witnessed violence, believed they would be harmed or lost a loved one may show signs of child traumatic stress.

What is child and adolescent traumatic stress?

Children who endure a traumatic experience may have been exposed to just one or many strains over the course of their life. Children will develop reactions that will continue on and affect their everyday lives well after the event has ended. Traumatic reactions will include different responses like emotional upset, anxiety, behavioural changes, depressive symptoms, problems relating to forming attachments, difficulties with self-regulations attention and academic challenges, nightmares, difficulty eating and sleeping and body aches. Older adolescents may turn to alcohol and drugs, engage in unhealthy sexual activity and behave in risky ways.

Children who suffer from traumatic stress will have symptoms when they are reminded of the stressful event. Many of us experience normal reactions to stress from time to time. Still, when a child goes through a traumatic event, the opinions can interfere with their ability to function and interact with other people and peers.

There is no age where children are immune to the effects of any type of traumatic experience. Infants and toddlers are vulnerable to suffer stress from a traumatic event. The way the stress will manifest will vary from child to child, and it will depend on the children’s developmental level and age.

Repeated childhood exposure to stressful events without any treatment can affect the brain and the nervous system, increasing the health risk behaviours such as smoking and eating disorders.

Children and adolescents that suffer from traumatic stress continuously or over a long period are more likely to end up with long-term health problems such as heart disease, diabetes and death at a young age.

Working with kids and teenagers who are suffering from trauma is very difficult to navigate. The childhood trauma manifests into symptoms of PTSD, which can be anything from paranoia to aggression, avoidance and hypervigilance.

Can hypnotherapy help with traumatic stress seen in children?

When it comes to working with children and teens suffering from trauma, hypnotherapy is an effective and potent tool.

Hypnotherapy allows undergoing treatment to re-experience and restructure those past events. The feeling that the children have no control is alleviated, and it helps the child to ground themselves further. Hypnosis works to address the behaviours that may have been created from the trauma. From a lack of confidence to stress eating and sleepness etc. Hypnotherapy is highly effective against the physiological symptoms and aspects of the trauma.

Children who have been sexually abused can, in the long run, have a violent aversion to being touched and can disconnect completely from intimacy. Hypnotherapy can be effective to help those who need help to reframe their perception of situations and regain their autonomy that they may be missing.

The struggle is monumental, but therapies like hypnotherapy can help.