Childhood abuse and trauma have been serious concerns for years and, unfortunately, the pandemic seems to have exacerbated the problem. An October 2021 study presented by the American Academy of Pediatrics that analyzed 39,000 children found that 2,064 were victims of suspected child abuse during the period when pandemic restrictions were implemented, representing a significant increase from pre-pandemic. With children aged 5 and above, the average number of abuse cases nearly tripled, from 36 to 103.
Childhood trauma can be caused by a variety of circumstances, including psychological, physical or sexual abuse. It can also be caused by natural disasters, violence in the community or school, bullying, serious accidents, illnesses, loss of a loved one, stress caused by poverty, the deployment of a parent in the military, exposure to substance abuse and, in current times, fears brought on by the pandemic.
In addition, as we’ve seen in recent news reports, young people are increasingly being traumatized by school shootings, like the latest tragedy in Michigan.
Children exhibit signs of trauma in a variety of ways. Things to watch out for include:
• Anger issues
• Attention problems
• Changes in appetite
• Development of new fears
• Increased thoughts about death or safety
• Loss of interest in normal activities
• Problems sleeping
• School refusal
• Physical complaints such as headaches and stomachaches
Support Their Process
When helping your child deal with their emotions, it is important to remember that every person is different, and how they process their feelings will vary as well. Maryville University’s human development and family studies program highlights how impactful experiences, such as traumatic ones, can change relationships within the family and affect your child’s development. It’s during this time that they either develop trust or difficulties trusting people moving forward. Let them know that they are not alone. Always take time to listen to them when they speak about their emotions, and never trivialize them. This will ensure that they feel validated and heard.
Talk to them in situations where they feel most comfortable. This can be when you are together on a drive or having a walk through the park. Be sure to also respect their boundaries and never force them to say more than they’re comfortable sharing.
Older children and teenagers might require some time away from stresses like school pressures. As mental wellness reporter Christina Caron writes in the New York Times, allowing them to take mental health days will let them practice self-care and counter stress. Fortunately, in New York, students are allowed to take mental health days as they are treated like taking a day off due to physical illness. Supporting your child’s process will encourage their feelings of security around you.
When It’s Time for Therapy
Being there for your children does them a world of good, especially after trauma, but it’s important to acknowledge that they may need professional help during the healing process. Many parents are not properly equipped with the knowledge required to help children who have gone through traumatic events. An experienced therapist can provide your child with the right strategies and coping practices. This will also help them adjust to difficult situations without adopting unhealthy habits.
Psychology Today’s article on trauma mentions how professional psychotherapy is one of the most effective ways for those who have gone through trauma to deal with their feelings. Trauma-informed care helps build resilience and allows people to know which coping mechanisms are healthy and which aren’t.
Traumatic experiences at any age can be difficult to process, but they are even more challenging for children. Seek out help from professionals who specialize in caring for children and teens.
Note: If your child or teen is experiencing any signs of trauma, contact North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center at (516) 626-1971
When to Contact Authorities
If you suspect your child has gone through a trauma as a result of abuse or neglect, the Child Welfare Information Gateway encourages you to reach out to authorities. Signs can include reclusive behavior or bruises on the body. Bringing in the authorities may also help increase your child’s sense of safety, as they will know that the offender will no longer be able to harm them. Aside from this, it may lessen the chances of the perpetrator mistreating others in the future.
You can also call New York’s statewide number 1-800-342-3720 to make a report. Once it is filed, the central register will contact your local Child Protective Services (CPS) department and an investigation will begin within 24 hours. CPS will then determine whether or not the child is endangered within 60 days. If CPS finds evidence of abuse, the case will typically be brought to a family court. Throughout the whole ordeal, be sure that your child understands what is happening and that they feel safe. – R.J.