The Importance of Early Intervention for Child Traumatic Stress: Journey to Healing
Aug 22, 2023
The aftermath of trauma can feel scary and overwhelming. Healing and restoring hope are possible with early intervention and support from caregivers and mental health professionals.
What Is Child Traumatic Stress?
Child traumatic stress is the mental, emotional, and physical response to a frightening or distressing event experienced by a child. These events often cause a sense of helplessness and may involve harm, or the threat of harm, to a child’s emotional and physical well-being. Examples of traumatic events include physical or sexual abuse, community violence, the sudden loss of a loved one, natural disasters, car accidents, or serious injury.
Following a traumatic event, it is normal for a child to experience traumatic stress and exhibit changes in mood, behavior, and/or functioning. Symptoms of child traumatic stress may include, but are not limited to the following:
Avoiding people, places, or things that remind them of the traumatic event
Changes in behavior like isolating, clinginess, temper tantrums, bedwetting, or other regressive behaviors
Sleep problems such as nightmares or difficulty falling or staying asleep
Cognitive issues, which may include memory problems, difficulty concentrating, or changes in academic performance
Physical conditions like headaches, nausea, or stomach pain
What Is Early Intervention and Why is It Important?
The term “early intervention” refers to services and supports provided to children who are at risk of experiencing problems related to their mental, emotional, or physical development and well-being. For a child that has experienced trauma, early intervention includes trauma services provided in early childhood (i.e., the time from birth until age six) and trauma services provided to youth of any age in the first few months following a traumatic event. Research shows that early intervention can significantly reduce symptoms, decrease the need for more intensive services, and improve outcomes.
What Can I Do if My Child Is Showing Signs of Child Traumatic Stress?
If your child has experienced a traumatic event, know that recovery is possible. Effective treatments like Child Parent Psychotherapy (CPP) and Child and Family Traumatic Stress Intervention (CFTSI) can improve or reduce symptoms significantly.
CPP is therapy for young children (up to six years old) and their parents/caregivers. This intervention helps families recover after traumatic and stressful events by strengthening the parent-child relationship, talking about difficult experiences, responding to difficult feelings and behaviors, and creating a family story that leads to healing.
CFTSI is a brief intervention for children (ages seven to seventeen) and their parents/caregivers. Therapy is initiated within the first 30-45 days after the traumatic event. The goal of treatment is to reduce traumatic stress reactions and decrease the onset of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
The type of treatment will depend on multiple factors, such as the child’s age, the nature and timing of the trauma, and the severity of symptoms. As a first step, parents or caregivers can ask their child’s doctor or school counselor for a referral to a mental health professional to discuss treatment options.
Kaylan is a licensed professional clinical counselor and project coordinator at The Center for Family Safety and Healing.
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