Extreme stress and traumatic experiences that occur when children are 0-3 can have long term emotional, physical and educational effects. Because infants’ and young children’s may not be able to verbalize their reactions to threatening or dangerous events, many people assume that young age protects children from the impact of traumatic experiences.

Research has established that young children may be affected by events that threaten their safety or the safety of their parents/caregivers. These traumas can be the result of intentional violence, natural disaster, accidents, or war. Young children also may experience traumatic stress in response to neglect, substance abuse and medical procedures or the loss of a parent/caregiver.

Truama in early childhood can also impact a child’s physical health as an adult.

What does this look like in my child? (Symptoms)

Ages 0-2

  • Demonstrate poor verbal skills

  • Exhibit memory problems

  • Scream or cry excessively

  • Have poor appetite, low weight, or digestive problems

Ages 3-6

  • Have difficulties focusing or learning in school

  • Develop learning disabilities

  • Show poor skill development

  • Act out in social situations

  • Imitate the abusive/traumatic event

  • Be verbally abusive

  • Be unable to trust others or make friends

  • Believe they are to blame for the traumatic event

  • Lack self-confidence

  • Experience stomach aches or headaches

Traumatic experiences for young children may put them at serious risk because their rapidly developing brains are very defenseless. The brain is responsible for many complex functions including memory, attention, awareness, thinking, language, and consciousness. These complex in the brain may result in a child who may not feel as safe or as protected.


How can I help my child now?

Children who have developed protective factors such as the reliable presence of a positive, caring, and protective parent or caregiver, can help shield children against the effects of negative experiences.

  • Early intervention and treatment can minimize the social and emotional impact of a child’s exposure to a traumatic event

What can I do for my child in the long-run?

Parent–child relationships, as well as other environmental factors, can have important effect on a child’s reaction to trauma.

  • Be a consistent resource to the child.
  • Encourage the child to talk about their experiences
  • Continually provide reassurance to the child that the adults in their lives are working to keep them safe.–237.pdf

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