Coping with Childhood Trauma

by Erin O'Connor

Childhood trauma can have serious and long lasting impacts on mental and physical health. As Nadine Burke Harris outlined in her 2014 TED Talk, early childhood stress and trauma have negative impacts on children’s immediate and long-term physical and mental health. In fact, individuals who are exposed to severe childhood trauma have triple the risk of heart disease and lung cancer and a twenty year shorter life expectancy. A recent public example of childhood trauma’s impact on later adult life was Prince Harry’s comments regarding his reliving his mother’s passing. Sadly, in many cases, trauma may be unavoidable in childhood. But how can we support young children and how can we cope as adults who have suffered? The Child Mind Institute offers helpful suggestions including:

1) Acknowledge feelings -- if a child is worried, don’t just tell them not to worry. That may make them feel unsupported or heard. Instead, acknowledge their concern by saying something like “I see that you’re worried.”

2) Communicate to your child that it is perfectly normal to feel anger, guilt and sadness, and to express things in different ways.

3) Share information about what happened

4) Attempt to maintain a routine, as much as possible, following a traumatic event.

5) Help children enjoy themselves.

Supportive, warm relationships with a caring adult can also buffer children from many of the serious effects of early trauma. In fact, several studies have found that supportive relationships can actually lower the biological stress response to trauma (Donadon et al., 2018). As an adult too it is important to allow oneself to experience the myriad of emotions that may surround an early trauma. Speaking with others who have also suffered a trauma or loss can provide one with social support. For example, after losing my mother, I joined an on-line group of fellow women who had lost their mothers recently. The sense of camaraderie helped me feel more secure in my feelings of anger and loss.


Nadine Burke Harris' Ted Talk

Donadon, M. F., Martin-Santos, R., & Lima Osório, F. (2018). The associations between oxytocin and trauma in humans: A systematic review. Frontiers in Pharmacology, 9, 154.

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