Effects of Childhood Trauma

All children experience some stressful events in their lives (such as a divorce, death in the family or changing schools). However, the vast majority of children grow up in loving, non-abusive families and never experience other traumatic events, such as witnessing an assault or experiencing a life-threatening disaster like a fire, earthquake, or bomb explosion. Unfortunately, though, there are long-term consequences for those children that do experience trauma.

A study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that children who experience six or more traumatic events in their childhood – events that can include emotional, physical or sexual abuse or household dysfunction – have an average lifespan 19 years shorter than those of their counterparts who do not suffer that degree of childhood trauma. For their research, investigators followed over 17,000 adults on whom they collected health behavior and status data in 1995 through 1997. In 2006, they followed up to see which of the individuals surveyed had passed away. They found that people who reported six or more adverse childhood events lived for an average of 60 years, while those who reported fewer lived, on average, to be 79. The reason for this large disparity appears to be that trauma survivors seem to take on the risk factors for poor health – they tend to smoke, abuse alcohol, use drugs, or be overweight. The stress from the trauma appears to accumulate in people’s lives and affect the way they think.

In another report in the “Archives of General Psychiatry”, abuse and neglect during childhood appear to be associated with increased rates of mood, anxiety and substance use disorders among youth.

What We Can Do To Reduce Childhood Trauma

Clearly, childhood trauma has a major impact on those individuals, as well as our society as a whole. This can feel depressing and overwhelming – what can we do to help? Don’t feel helpless, there are steps we can take to reduce childhood trauma.

Be a nurturing parent.
Children need to know that they are special, loved and capable of following their dreams. When the big and little problems of your everyday life pile up to the point you feel overwhelmed and out of control – take time out. Don’t take it out on your kid. If you feel you have a problem with possibly not treating your children with love and care, get help. A resource is provided at the end of this blog.

Be a friend to a parent you know.
Parents can be overwhelmed, and you may provide just the support they need to make more positive choices for their children. Ask how their children are doing. Draw on your own experiences to provide reassurance and support. If a parent seems to be struggling, offer to baby-sit or run errands, or just lend a friendly ear.

Be a friend to a child you know.
Remember their names. Smile when you talk with them. Ask them about their day at school or just express interest in their lives. Having another supportive adult in their lives can only help!

Talk to your neighbors about looking out for one another’s children.
Encourage a supportive spirit among parents in your apartment building or on your block. Show that you are involved.

Donate to a family in need.
Give your used clothing, furniture and toys to another family. This can help relieve the stress of financial burdens that parents sometimes take out on their kids. Provide food or gifts to needy families during the holiday season so that a child can have a happier holiday and realize that someone is willing to help.

Organize a fundraiser.
Help to collect funds or supplies for a family that has recently experienced a fire, natural disaster or a death in the family.

Be aware.
If you suspect that a child is being abused, please contact your local police department or social services agency.


Below are two excellent resources:

Child abuse:  http://www.preventchildabuse.org/

Natural disasters and house fires:  www.redcross.org

In addition, you can contact your local government to find out what resources are available for counseling and/or therapy, financial assistance, or other specific needs.

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