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Childhood Trauma and Military Life

What is trauma?

The American Psychological Association defines trauma as an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape, loss of a loved one, natural disaster etc. Children go through several events during childhood, and as a child grows, it is unavoidable to go through events that will be painful or distressing. Some children can go through these painful events smoothly, while some have a hard time recovering.

What is childhood trauma?

Childhood trauma is an event or events experienced by a child that causes a threat to their life or bodily integrity and causes psychological stress. It refers to life-threatening or dangerous events that happen to children between the ages of 0-18.

Events that are emotionally painful and often result in physical and mental effects can be a source of trauma to a child.

Children may experience neglect, abandonment, abuse, (physical, mental, sexual) these experiences often result in distress, pain, and in turn, result in psychological trauma.

Childhood trauma and military life

Military life can be a source of psychological stress for children due to some of the peculiarities of military families. Some of which include frequent separation from a parent; frequent moves due to deployment; disruption in relationship with their friends; adapting to new schools; parents coming back home injured or sick; parents' death and so on. These experiences lead to high rates of mental health problems and trauma.

According to research, although most children from military life come out positive, healthy and tough, some of the peculiarities mentioned above could put psychological stress on these children, mostly young children because they often experience more anxiety. This doesn't mean that children from the military generally have a mental illness, but most of them are distressed as a result of the stress that comes with military life.

The deployment of their parents can be one of the most stressful experiences of a child's life; they may experience changes such as extreme sadness, worrying, hiding emotions, feeling lost, depression, academic problems and so on.

Signs and symptoms of trauma

  1. Changes in eating habits.

  2. Changes in sleep patterns

  3. Aggression

  4. Feeling helpless

  5. Irritability

  6. Poor relationships with their peers

  7. Grief

  8. Thoughts about death and safety

  9. Emotional upset

  10. Attention and academic difficulties

  11. Nightmares

  12. Feeling depressed

  13. Loss of interest in hobbies

Children who experience trauma have these symptoms when they are reminded of their painful experiences. The way a child feels these traumatic symptoms vary in children and depending on the child's age.

Not all children experience traumatic stress when they go through traumatic events. The severity of the event, the proximity of the event, prior history of the trauma, family and community factors and the family's reactions to those events play a role in determining whether a child with experience traumatic stress of not.

How to help children with trauma

The way a child deals with trauma to a large extent relies on the response of the child's parent or caregiver. It's the duty of a parent to realize that every child reacts to trauma differently and help them cope with those reactions. Parents can help their children cope with trauma in the following ways;

  1. Making them feel safe again by reassuring them that everything will be fine

  2. Limiting the child's exposure to events that will remind them of the traumatic events

  3. Talk to your child, ask them what is wrong, encourage them to ask questions and express themselves

  4. Encourage your child to engage in activities that will make them feel better, such as sporting activities, games and so on

  5. Seek help from a professional (psychologists and behavioural therapists) when the child's traumatic stress begins to intensify to the extent that the child cannot function properly

Traumatic events in children leave reminders that can last for years. Helping a child deal with the memories of these traumatic events is vital in looking after the mental health of the child

Parents would need to pay attention to their children to identify symptoms of trauma following traumatic experiences – early detection is always beneficial














Written by Akinloye Folashade, a psychology graduate from the University of Lagos (Unilag) with a passion for mental health and people with special needs .A mental health advocate looking to educate people on mental health illnesses especially in children and adolescents and help stop stigmatisation against those illnesses.

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