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Traumatized Children Show Wide Range of Symptoms

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Young children who have been traumatized show a wide range of symptoms. These include:

  • Increased clinginess and difficulties separating from parents Disrupted sleep, with increased nightmares, waking, and panic.


  • Increased worries and hypervigilance.


  • Avoidance of new or previously identified sources of danger (phobias about animals, noises, monsters under the bed, etc.)


  • Toileting problems and physical complaints (headaches, stomachaches, or other aches and pains with no medical cause) Eating problems with increased fussiness, lack of interest, or insatiability.


  • Increased irritability and oppositional behavior with increased aggressiveness, angry outbursts, and inability to be soothed Emotional upset with unusual and frequent tearfulness and expressions of sadness.


  • Withdrawal of interest in pleasurable activities and interactions.


  • Dramatic changes in or inability to play; playing less creatively; repeatedly reenacting a traumatic event, such as a car crash or a fire.


  • Blunted emotions with no show of feelings; disconnection, as though going through the motions of regular activities Unusual distractibility.


  • Refusal to engage in previous age-appropriate behaviors (self-feeding, washing, brushing teeth, self-dressing, etc.).


  • Return to more babyish speech patterns.


  • While all children may be vulnerable to symptoms of trauma when real dangers converge with their worst fears, it is not surprising that children whose development is already fragile may be at greatest risk for continued long-term effects after sudden overwhelming events. Parents and caregivers fail children when they do not recognize that they have been overwhelmed by trauma and need help.

    Excerpted from the book Listening to Fear: Helping Kids Cope, from Nightmares to the Nightly News by Steven Marans, Ph.D. Copyright © 2005 Steven Marans. (Published by Owl Books; January 2005; $15.00US/$20.95CAN; 0-8050-7604-2).

    See the Guide Review of Listening to Fear: Helping Kids Cope, from Nightmares to the Nightly News.

    About the Author: Steven Marans, Ph.D., is the Harris Associate Professor of Child Psychoanalysis and an associate professor of psychiatry at Yale University School of Medicine, where he is also the director of the National Center for Children Exposed to Violence. He lives in New Haven, Connecticut, with his wife and two teenage sons.

    For more information, please visit www.writtenvoices.com.

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