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Children Exposed to Trauma

What defines trauma for children?

traumatic event is a scary, dangerous, or violent event. An event can be traumatic when an individual faces or witnesses an immediate threat to oneself or to a loved one, often followed by serious injury or harm. Children can feel terror, helplessness, or horror at what they are experiencing and at their inability to stop it or protect themselves or others from it.

Traumatic stress occurs when children are exposed to issues or events that overwhelm their ability to cope. How children experience traumatic events and how they express their distress depends, in large part, on the children’s age and level of development.

Parents and caretakers try hard to keep their children safe, unfortunately, dangerous events still happen. This danger can come from outside of the family (such as a natural disaster, car accident, school shooting, or community violence) or from within the family, (such as a serious injury, domestic violence, physical or sexual abuse, or the unexpected death of a loved one).

Types of trauma:

Child abuse and neglect

Sexual abuse

Domestic violence

School/community violence

Natural disasters

Traumatic Grief


Death of a loved one

Serious Illness

What do symptoms look like in children?


  • Feel helpless and uncertain
  • Fear being separated from parent/caregiver
  • Increase their frequency or intensity of crying
  • Develop a lack of appetite or weight loss
  • Increase their instances of bed-wetting
  • Regress in language development
  • Increase their intensity, frequency and number of fears
  • Act out trauma in play
  • Show signs of stunted development
  • Express significant changes in their behaviors


  • Become anxious and fearful
  • Worry about their own or others’ safety
  • Become clingy with a parent or teacher
  • Feel guilt or shame
  • Tell others about the traumatic event repeatedly
  • Become upset if they get a small bump or bruise
  • Find it difficult to focus
  • Experience numbness
  • Have fears of recurrence of traumatic event
  • Experience sleep disruptions or difficulty falling asleep
  • Decrease their school performance
  • Become easily startled


  • Feel alone and depressed
  • Desire frequent discussions of traumatic event in detail
  • Develop eating disorders and self-harming behaviors (ie: cutting)
  • Start using or abusing drugs and/or alcohol
  • Become sexually active
  • Feel like they’re going crazy
  • Feel different from everyone else
  • Show an increase in risky behaviors
  • Begin to have sleep disturbances
  • Report no feelings regarding traumatic event
  • Change in overall attitude or behaviors


Types of treatment include:

  • Child-Parent Psychotherapy (CPP) for children ages 0-5 & their non-offending caregivers.
  • Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavior Therapy (TFCBT) for children ages 6-18 and their non-offending caregivers.
  • Individual therapy and/or family therapy for children and teens.
  • Support group for children exposed to High Conflict family relationships.  Click here for information about this support group.

 Objectives of treatment:

JFS Social workers will provide clinical services to children/adolescents exposed to domestic violence and other traumas. Goals of treatment include children and teens having less anger and/or incidents of acting out, improved self-esteem and socialization skills, better ability to concentrate and focus, help with somatic complaints; and reduced symptoms of trauma depression and anxiety.