How to Spot Trauma in Young Children

How to Spot Trauma in Young Children

Calendar-IconFebruary 21, 2022  |  Child Abuse, CHILD FOCUS, MENTAL HEALTH, Support, THERAPY
Spotting Trauma in Young Children

Trauma manifests itself in children in a variety of ways.  


It depends on the child, the issue they are facing, their age and developmental level, as well as other social and genetic factors.  


Trauma in children needs to be dealt with immediately through regular therapy with a trained professional. If the symptoms are noticed early and dealt with properly, many children make full recoveries by adulthood.  


In this article, we will break down various signs of trauma that will appear in children of different age brackets and the domain of development that has been affected.  


Infants (Age 0-3) 

  • Eating disturbance 

  • Sleep disturbances 

  • Somatic complaints 

  • Clingy/separation anxiety 

  • Feeling helpless/passive 

  • Irritable/difficult to soothe 

  • Constricted play, exploration, mood 

  • Repetitive/post-traumatic play 

  • Developmental regression 

  • General fearfulness/new fears 

  • Easily startled 

  • Language delay 

  • Aggressive behavior 

  • Sexualized behavior 

  • Talking about traumatic events and reacting to reminders/trauma triggers 

Young Children (Age 3-6) 

  • Avoidant, anxious, clingy 

  • General fearfulness/new fears 

  • Helplessness, passive, low frustration 

  • Restless, impulsive, hyperactive
  • Physical symptoms (headache, etc.) 

  • Difficulty identifying what is bothering them 

  • Inattention, difficulty problem solving 

  • Daydreaming or dissociation 

  • Irritability 

  • Aggressive behavior 

  • Sexualized behavior 

  • Loss of recent developmental achievements 

  • Repetitive/ post-traumatic play 

  • Talking about traumatic events and reacting to reminders/trauma triggers 

  • Sadness/depression 

  • Poor peer relationships and social problems (controlling/over permissive) 

Complex trauma can completely disrupt a child’s development and functioning. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network’s 2003 white paper, Complex Trauma in Children and Adolescents, arranged types of traumas and the issues children will face as a result.  

It is essential to consider each child’s developmental age, stage in life, specific development tasks, and caregiving context.  


The domain of Development and Signs of Disruption or Impairment 



  • Difficulty trusting others 

  • Uncertainty about the reliability/predictability of others 

  • Interpersonal difficulty 

  • Social isolation 

  • Difficulty seeking help 

  • Clingy, difficulty with separations 


  • Sensorimotor development problems 

  • Hypersensitivity to physical contact 

  • Somatization 

  • Increased medical problems 

  • Problems with coordination and balance 

Affect Regulation 

  • Problems with emotional regulation 

  • Easily upset and/or difficulty calming 

  • Difficulty describing emotions and internal experiences 

  • Difficulty knowing and describing internal states 

  • Problems with communicating needs 

Behavioral Control 

  • Poor impulse control 

  • Self-destructive behavior 

  • Aggressive behavior 

  • Oppositional behavior 

  • Excessive compliance 

  • Sleep disturbance 

  • Eating disorders 

  • Reenactment of traumatic event/past 

  • Pathological self-soothing practices 


  • Difficulty paying attention 

  • Lack of sustained curiosity 

  • Problems processing information 

  • Problems focusing on/completing tasks 

  • Difficulty planning and anticipating consequences 

  • Learning difficulties, developmental delays 

  • Problems with language development 


  • Lack of continuous/predictable sense of self 

  • Poor sense of separateness 

  • Disturbance of body image 

  • Low self-esteem 

  • Shame and guilt 

Recognize the Signs 

Early recognition of the signs of trauma in children is an essential step towards helping the child recover.  

Early awareness, along with the help of counseling/therapy can reduce these symptoms with time. Once you recognize the specific signs your child is displaying and you know how their symptoms disrupt their daily life, you will have an easier time selecting a therapeutic professional who is right for them. There are a number of evidence-based treatments, such as Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT) or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) that can be used to work with children who have experienced trauma. 

In addition to therapy, some children may require medication to help them with their trauma symptoms.  

Since 1977, Child Focus has been dedicated to helping children start life the right way, with a sound mind and a high-quality education. If you want to give your child a leg up, reach out to Child Focus today.  

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