Children who suffer from traumatic stress have been exposed to one or more trauma events and develop reactions affecting their daily lives with the reactions continuing after the event has ended. Traumatic reactions can include a number of responses and are often triggered when the child is reminded in some way of the traumatic event. Although many of us may experience reactions to stress, when a child is experiencing traumatic stress, the reactions interfere with the child’s daily life and ability to interact with others.
How can our organization recognize trauma in children? (Symptoms)
Startling easily or being difficult to calm
Clinginess, reluctance to explore the world
Activity levels that are much higher or lower than peers
Repeating traumatic events over and over in dramatic play or conversation
Delays in reaching physical, language, or other milestones
Inattention, difficulty problem solving
Poor peer relationships and social problems (controlling OR over permissive)
Older children may use drugs or alcohol, behave in risky ways, or engage in unhealthy sexual activity.
What can our organization do immediately to help the children we serve?
Create Safe Conditions
When possible, help people:
- Get food.
- Find a safe place to live.
- Get help from a doctor or nurse.
- Connect with loved ones or friends.
- Find information on where to get help.
- Force people to tell their stories.
- Probe for personal details.
- Say things like “everything will be OK” or “at least you survived.”
- Say what you think people should feel or how people should have acted.
- Be negative about available help.
- Make promises that you can’t keep, such as “you will go home soon.”
- Say people suffered because they deserved it.
Connect with Others
Remain calm, be friendly, and connect with others. Being sensitive to people under stress and respecting their decisions is important.
- Offer your buildings and institutions as gathering places to promote support.
- Help families identify mental health professionals who can counsel children.
- Help children develop coping skills, problem-solving skills, and ways to deal with fear.
- Hold parent meetings to discuss the event, their child’s response, and how parents can help their child.
- Be sensitive to different cultural responses to trauma and stress.
What can our organization do for the long-term to help and support the children we serve?
Make Your Organization part of a Trauma-Informed System
A trauma-informed organization is one that recognizes and responds to the impact of trauma. Programs and agencies with a trauma-informed system integrate awareness, knowledge and skills into the culture, practices, and policies of the organization. They work collaboratively with those who are involved with the child, using best practices, to ensure physical and psychological safety, help with the recovery of the child and his/her family, and support their ability to thrive.
- Routinely screen for trauma exposure
- Use evidence-based assessment and treatment for traumatic stress and associated symptoms
- Make resources available to children, families, and providers on trauma exposure, its impact, and treatment
- Engage in efforts to strengthen protective factors of children and families
- Address parent and family trauma and its impact on the family system
- Maintain an environment of care for staff that responds to secondary trauma and increases staff wellness.
Train staff in Mental Health First Aid
Mental Health First Aid is an 8-hour course that gives people the skills to help someone who is developing a mental health problem or experiencing a mental health crisis. The evidence behind the program demonstrates that it does build mental health literacy, helping the public identify, understand, and respond to signs of mental illness. Contact Dianna Bailey-Miller at email@example.com for training information.
For additional help and resources please visit
- https://helpandhopewv.org/ – West Virginia families and communities along with the rest of the nation continue to face the public health crisis of substance use disorder, but together we can restore our families and communities.
- https://helpandhopewv.org/teens-families.html – Parents and caregivers – you can influence whether your child uses alcohol or drugs. It is crucial that you start talking with your children about alcohol and drugs well before the teen years. The earlier a person starts using drugs or alcohol, the more likely they are to develop substance use disorders.
- https://stigmafreewv.org/ – Learn about the types of stigma experienced by people with substance use disorder. People who experience stigma are less likely to seek help or treatment. We are ALL part of the solution.
- https://sesamestreetincommunities.org/ – Please note that this site has an array of resources for almost type of experience: family homelessness, foster care, dealing with divorce, resilience, traumatic experiences, and many more.
Please Note: Links to resources outside the West Virginia Department of Education’s website do not constitute an endorsement by the WVDE. Users should vet linked resources to meet audience needs.