Unfortunately, trauma is an all too common occurrence in South Africa. Trauma has many different guises and can encompass anything from criminal occurrences (such as muggings, hi-jackings, smash and grabs, house robberies etc.), natural disasters (floods, etc.) or any other unexpected event (such as witnessing or experiencing abuse, being involved in a motor vehicle accident, divorce of parents, having a family member that is ill, etc.). In addition, some children can also experience a secondary traumatization when their school peers for example, undergo a traumatic experience and re-tell the event.
If parents are concerned that their child has undergone a trauma they need to be aware of some of the possible signs and symptoms of trauma:
- Anxiety, manifested by excessive worries and fears especially about the safety of significant others and themselves;
- Mood changes, such as irritability and whining;
- Behavioural changes, such as decreased levels of concentration and attention, withdrawal, aggression and over-activity which can adversely affect school performance;
- Somatic complaints, such as headaches and stomach aches etc.;
- Increased talk and awareness regarding death and dying;
- Sensitivity or a startled response to various sounds and noises;
- Talking about the traumatic event repeatedly as well as recreating the event via play;
- Regression in younger children, such as ‘wanting to be a baby’ and not performing age appropriate tasks that they were completing before such as eating by themselves, sleeping in their own beds etc.
- Adverse impact on issues of trust, security and safety;
- Symptoms of depression, such as lack of interest in usual activities and changes in sleep or appetite and withdrawal;
- Anger, as well as hateful statements; and
- Avoidance of people, places, or situations that remind them of the traumatic event.
Not all children will experience trauma in the exact same way as well as manifest all the above symptoms as not all circumstances are the same for every child. In addition, children have different personalities and temperaments which affects the way they experience a traumatic event (for example, an anxious child may react differently to a laid back child if they were to experience the same trauma). Moreover, trauma can be subjective in that what is traumatic for one child may not be perceived in the same way by another child, or indeed an adult). If you are concerned about your child with regard to a trauma consult with a child psychologist who will determine the best course of action, such as play therapy or parental guidance to help you assist your child.