Childhood Trauma

Trauma in childhood is costly for its victims and for society. Resilience is not a common outcome of childhood trauma. 

By Constance Ndeleko

Do you know; the same sensitivity in a child’s early years helps them to learn different languages very fast, is the same one that makes them vulnerable to chaos, threat, inconsistency, violence etc.

Brain development happens through a life course. From the time the child is born 25% of the brain is already developed in the womb. When the child is 3 years, 85% of the brain is already developed. At the age of 5 years the brain is 95% already developed. By the time they join school and become adults and die only 10% of development is left. A Child at the age of 3-4 can learn around 6 languages easily while for an adult it becomes a challenge to do so.

A traumatic event is a frightening, dangerous, or violent event that poses a threat to a child’s life or bodily integrity. Witnessing a traumatic event that threatens life or physical security of a loved one can also be traumatic. This is particularly important for young children as their sense of safety depends on the perceived safety of their attachment figures.

People who experience traumatic events sometimes develop post-traumatic stress disorder. Trauma in childhood is a grave psychosocial, medical, and public policy problem that has serious consequences for its victims and for society. Factors that may lead to trauma include: physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, physical neglect, emotional neglect, witnessing domestic violence, substance misuse within the household, mental illness within the household, parental separation or divorce, Incarceration of a household member.

Exposure to a traumatic event or series of chronic traumatic events (e.g., child maltreatment) activates the body’s biological stress response systems. Stress activation has behavioral and emotional effects that are similar to individual PTSS symptoms.

An early unexpected, trauma, maternal deprivation, increases the death of both neurons and glia cells in cerebral and cerebellar cortexes in infants.

Research shows that children are much more sensitive to developmental trauma than adults. Which also speaks highly of children who have been brought up in a good nurturing environment portray a well wired brain making them less susceptible to trauma, poor school performance, and mental health problems as well as functioning in the world contrary to children who have experienced adversity.

Understanding childhood trauma helps in changing the definitive way of how we see the world from a young age. Unless we fix the wounds that caused the trauma that makes people be the way they are then we are working on the wrong issues.

It calls for a change in approaching children from what’s wrong with you to what happened to you? We highly need to have the right resources to address what happened to the child with sensitivity.

Sometimes, some children turn out to be okay, regardless of them being raised in a chaotic environment, school could have been a refuge for them as we all clearly understand its importance. We all need somebody to be there of us to hold our hands in the healing process either consciously or subconsciously and reassure us that they believe in us and things will be ok.

How can we build the emotional structure of children?

Emotional development is not only complex; its architecture is constructed over many years and requires a multitude of experiences and interchanges. Our job as caregivers is to help a child understand their constantly changing emotions. They must be able to identify what emotion they are feeling, express different emotions in healthy ways. The regulation of emotions is fundamental to managing experiences and developing social-emotional intelligence.

From birth to 18 months, infants are totally dependent and need a lot of love and nurturance. As an infant receives love and comfort from their parents, they grow in the ability to regulate their emotions and self-calm. Parents’ daily responses are the building blocks of emotional literacy and secure attachment so critical for healthy development.

By 9 to 12 months they learn to move away from distress and seek comfort from caregivers. The correlation is clear that infants learn to self-soothe by being consoled by caregivers.

Also, between 0-6 years is the emotional task of the child to develop trust and a sense of security. They are very sensitive to when they perceive their safety is threatened. Seeking support from caregivers is prominent during these formative years.

“The child has a different relation to his environment from ours… the child absorbs it.  The things s/he sees are not just remembered; they form part of his soul.  S/he incarnates in himself or herself all in the world about him that his eyes see and his ears hear.”


Given how detrimental childhood trauma is to an individual’s development, more efforts and social resources are needed for prevention. Studies show that child maltreatment is amendable to primary prevention:

  • Encouraging caregivers to take children to therapy sessions.
  • Teaching children on how to speak out on issues affecting them
  • Allow children to live in environments that will give them peace
  • Allowing children in interact with other children where there is no form of adversity.
  • Listening to children and reassuring them that it is not the end of the road.
  • Show great promise in preventing child abuse and neglect.
  • Child maltreatment prevention programs

Trauma in childhood is costly for its victims and for society. Resilience is not a common outcome of childhood trauma. 

We have to deal with why the child acts that way by understanding their past experiences by seeking their explanation in order to help solve the problem. Seemingly, what happened to you shapes you world’s view.

We should be understanding to children by keenly seeking to know where they are coming from. Their journey through life could have been a bumpy raggedy road which forces them to be how they are today.

We need to have more targeted conversations about trauma, resilience and healing in children. As the foundational years are crucial to child’s brain development which have a longtime impact on their health end goal.

Adverse childhood experiences, in particular, are linked to chronic health conditions.

“The fact that her words or actions are crazy does not mean that the underlying thoughts and feelings have any less value to her than yours do to you. Listening means valuing your kid’s thoughts and feelings as being important to her and thus more important to you. (Dr. Michael Bradley)

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