Recognizing Symptoms of Child Trauma

If your child has had a traumatic experience, such as witnessing a crime or being victimized by violence or abuse, your child may need some help in coping with the trauma. The first step is recognizing the signs of trauma.

Frequently, children may become sad, worried, angry, frightened, or withdrawn. Although there are many possible responses and no child will respond the same way, other signs of trauma can include:

  • Trouble sleeping or falling asleep
  • Nightmares or unwanted memories of the event
  • Problems concentrating or paying attention
  • Difficulty getting along with family or friends or becoming less social
  • Increase or decrease in appetite
  • Behaving more childlike such as bedwetting, clinging to caregivers, or thumb sucking
  • Anger and other emotional outbursts
  • Avoidance of people, places and things that remind them of the event
  • Nervousness or startling easily
  • Depression
  • Increased problems with school and grades
  • Preschoolers may reenact the traumatic event through their play
  • Their minds might be stuck on a specific part of the event
  • They may become more clingy than before the traumatic incident
  • They may become passive and quiet
  • They may avoid new people or situations because of fears related to the trauma
  • They may become easily alarmed and generally more fearful of being away from caregivers
  • They are strongly affected by parental reactions
  • Preschoolers may also have problems with feeding or toileting when they have not typically had these problems in the past
School Age
  • School-age children may draw pictures of the traumatic event
  • They may also go back and forth between being shy and withdrawn or being unusually aggressive
  • They may have sleep problems (restless sleep, talking in sleep, waking up tired)
  • They may have problems concentrating in school
  • They may complain of stomach aches or headaches
  • School-age children may also respond to very general reminders of the event, like a particular color, smell, or sound
  • Adolescents may fear that their "flashbacks" mean that they are sick or crazy
  • They are likely to avoid thoughts or feelings of the event
  • Some will try to avoid memories of the event by using drugs/alcohol
  • They are likely to be more irritable than usual
  • They might seem like they have a lot of problems paying attention in school when they have no previous history of attention problems
  • Adolescents may also have sleep problems that are disguised as late night studying, television-watching, or partying
For additional information on best mental health practices for child trauma victims, please visit websites for the Center for Child and Family Health and the National Child Traumatic Stress Network.

Children who have had traumatic experiences may need some help coping with the trauma.

Recognizing Symptoms