When children experience something—either real or perceived—that threatens their lives or sense of safety, it can overwhelm their capacity to regulate their emotions. Generally, traumatic events evoke feelings of extreme fear and helplessness—children no longer trust what they once believed to be certain about their world. A child may be affected by trauma because of events such as a sudden loss or injury or an unremitting circumstance such as chronic neglect or a long illness.
Some traumatic experiences occur once in a lifetime, others are ongoing. Some children experience multiple traumas, and for too many children, trauma is a chronic part of their lives.
Some children show signs of stress in the first few weeks after a trauma but then return to their usual state of physical and emotional health. For others, recovery can be much more difficult and prolonged.
The symptoms of trauma in a child can range from evident, external distress to withdrawal and becoming more internally closed off. Often the best indicator is whether a student has changed over time. Does his/her trajectory seem developmentally predictable? Or does it seem unexpected, given what is known about the child? Other indicators may include