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When a child or young person experiences a traumatic event, it is often unclear the types of reactions they might display, or how this event might affect them in the longer-term. Many will experience some type of reaction following traumatic events, but fortunately, most are resilient and gradually return to their previous functioning. However, there are some children and young people who continue to experience difficulties over time. This page introduces some of the more typical reactions children might display (immediately and long-term) after experiencing a traumatic event, it also provides a guide on when and who to contact.
Traumatic events are any events that the child/young person subjectively experiences as distressing. These events can be something experienced only by the individual (e.g., being in an accident, witnessing a terrible event) or can be events in which groups of people were involved (e.g., floods, bushfires). Unfortunately, some experience a number of traumas and the effect may be cumulative making children/young people more vulnerable to stress reactions.
Some of the things that might be traumatic for children/young people include:
Serious accidental injury that results in a visit to the hospital
Death of a parent or close family member
Natural disasters such as earthquakes, bush fires, or floods
Fact Sheet – Responding to the impact of bushfires on children (275kb)
Research has shown that perceptions of threat may be different for children/young people and parents when exposed to traumatic events. What an adult perceives as threatening may be very different to a child/young person's experience. For example, in the context of natural disasters, parents may feel that their life or the life of their child or adolescent was threatened. The child/young person however, may be much more concerned with being separated from their parents and family during or immediately after the trauma. The fear of separation may continue for weeks or months following trauma depending on the age of the child/young person and the severity of threat. Further, losses that appear less important to adults (e.g., loss of a pet) may be of profound significance for the young person.
Parents, teachers and caregivers often want to know how a child/young person will react to a traumatic event. Unfortunately, there is no way of knowing exactly how each child/young person will react. Experiences and perceptions of threat may also depend on developmental stages or age of the child/young person. The child/young person’s reactions are also dependent on how their parents and other adults, such as teachers, express their reactions after a traumatic event.
Children and young people can express trauma reactions in very different ways to adults.
Many children/young people are resilient and experience only few reactions. Some report feeling more confident or finding other positive changes following trauma.
Some children/young people may express a lot of different reactions, or one intense reaction immediately following the event, but gradually return to their previous functioning over time.
Some children/young people express immediate reactions, and these persist over time. Sometimes the reactions can even change over time. Some appear resilient at first, but display reactions later on.
One important thing to remember is that many are resilient in the face of trauma. Not all children/young people will develop problems after experiencing a traumatic event.
For children/young people and adults it is normal to experience emotional distress and various behavioural reactions following a traumatic event. Some of these reactions might be adaptive and positive, whereas others may cause the child/young person, family and teachers some difficulty. Trauma reactions are often dynamic, and can present differently at any point in time.
CAMHS is committed to providing equity of access to services and attempts to minimise the barriers for children and young people with trauma experiences to access appropriate services.
As a vital step in your understanding the impacts of trauma, we encourage you to read through some of the trauma information contained within the below pamphlets.
Please find attached a number of fact sheets below:
Information for Teachers (436kb)
Information for Parents/Carers (277kb)
Principles of support following traumatic exposure (435kb)
For further information or to speak to someone about trauma services provided by CAMHS, please contact CAMHS Connect (see page on this site) or contact Tim Crowley, Nurse Practitioner, Complex Care and Trauma Mental Health on email@example.com. Tim is also happy to discuss any specific organisational training needs relating to trauma.