The Aftermath of Childhood Trauma


In honor of Child Abuse Prevention Month, my next few posts will revolve around your child’s physical and emotional safety. I worked as a trauma therapist for many years before starting my journey as a parent coach. I have seen the effects that childhood trauma has on children and have worked with adults who are still struggling to heal from their trauma decades after the incidents occur. Trauma not only affects a child’s psychological wellbeing – it also creates very physical symptoms that may persist long after the trauma has ended.

Adverse Childhood Events (or ACEs) are things that happen to a child that causes fear or distress which can lead to the emergence of trauma related symptoms. Did you know that 64% of individuals have experienced one or more adverse childhood events? This includes various forms of abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction (i.e. parental substance abuse, mental illness, domestic violence, incarcerated parent, divorce, etc.) 


For a long time, it was assumed that the only people affected by trauma were war veterans. A large body of research over the years has proved this wrong and extended the term to cover other terrifying events that cause real or perceived threat. We also know that trauma related symptoms may emerge from direct or indirect sources. This means you don’t necessarily have to experience the trauma firsthand. An example of this would be witnessing domestic violence.

Some research actually shows that a child who watches his or her parent being attacked is harder on a child than being abused themselves. The reason for this is that the parent’s job is to protect the child. When your child sees you being attacked they think that if you can’t protect yourself, how can you protect them? This causes an immense amount of distress and is like to cause trauma related symptoms (source).


Now, when an adult experiences a trauma they can usually tell you that they’re in distress. Children often times don’t have the vocabulary to do this and may exhibit signs that will let you know something is up. Sometimes children will have a very drastic change in behavior. For example, a typically well-behaved child may start to act out in school or may start engaging in tantruming behaviors. Some children may “regress” developmentally, or will lose skills they previously mastered (i.e. a previously potty trained child starts wetting themselves or a child begins to use baby talk). 

Often times children do not show any signs of trauma but may struggle internally. They may be hiding the fact that they were being abused because a perpetrator threatened them and told them not to tell or they live in a home where it is not safe to talk about their feelings. Sometimes the nature of the trauma is so severe that they dissociate (or disconnect from the experience) and do not remember what happened. This doesn’t mean that the trauma did not affect them and memories of their experience may re-emerge years later.


Trauma can actually be stored in the body even if a person does not remember what happened. Their symptoms may be psychosomatic in nature – which means that they have some sort of physical response that may not have a known cause. This can become extremely severe and can even present itself in the form of seizures or paralysis. I want to point out that trauma affects the body regardless of whether or not an individual remembers what happened.

The number of adverse childhood events one experiences actually increases the risk of physical, emotional, and behavioral consequences. Did you know that individuals who experienced trauma as a child are at a higher risk for heart disease, stroke, obesity, and more? This is why it is imperative that we protect our children or get help for the ones that have already experienced one or more adverse childhood events.


Keep following my blog the rest of the month of April to learn more about trauma and how to parent in a way that will keep your children safe. If your child or a child you know discloses abuse all adults in the state of Kentucky are mandated by law to report. If you live in a state where it is not required please do the right thing and report it anyways. Neglecting to report abuse puts your child at risk and may put other children at risk as well. Just google “Child Abuse Hotline (Insert State)” to get the number for your specific state. If you live in Kentucky, the number is (1-877-597-2331).


Do you have a child that has completed trauma therapy but you are continuing to have trouble figuring out appropriate and safe discipline? Parent Coaching Services with Leanne Pilgrim may be right for you! Click here to schedule your FREE consultation.

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