A general practitioner’s guide to common reactions to trauma and loss by children aged 6-8 years

Emerging Minds, Australia, 2018

Resource Summary

Key points

  • Children’s trauma and grief need special attention and routine checks.
  • Children react to how their parents and other trusted adults around them are coping.
  • Parents can mistakenly minimise or dismiss their child’s trauma-related behaviour as normal, good or bad behaviour.
  • Following trauma and loss it is important to explore with parents how each of their children is coping and to help them support their children identify and label their feelings.

Family doctors regularly see the effects of trauma and loss on children of all ages.

Many parents present at family practices concerned by their child’s behaviour. At other times, a general practitioner might become concerned that a parent underestimates the effects of trauma on their child.

Research regularly shows that the most important aspect of children’s recovery from trauma or loss is being believed and supported by a parent or trusted adult. Children need their parents or trusted adults to help them manage the feelings, thoughts and behaviours that arise as an effect of trauma or loss. Sometimes, general practitioners need to help parents understand common effects of trauma or loss and how to be support the recovery of their children.

Below is a list of typical responses for children in middle childhood (6–8 years).

Physical and behavioural responses

The child may:

  • complain of tummy pains, headaches and nausea.
  • display behaviour that they have not displayed in years such as thumb-sucking or bed-wetting
  • become difficult to please, whingey and complaining
  • display behaviours usually seen in much younger children
  • show increased tension and irritability
  • be startled by small noises or movements
  • display increased tiredness because they have trouble sleeping
  • be easily distracted or unable to pay attention
  • not want to be at school or see/talk to others
  • act out by hurting others or themselves
  • show changes in normal eating patterns
  • display increased clinginess or fear of being alone
  • communicate new fears or old fears coming back
  • display a lack of eye contact or a ‘spaced out’ look
  • show changes or delays in speech, memory, or learning
  • become quiet or compliant
  • become aggressive and act out.

Psychological and emotional responses

The child may:

  • believe that they are to blame for the trauma or loss (particularly those who have been sexually or physically abused by a trusted adult)
  • show mood or personality changes
  • show anxiety or constant worry about lots of things
  • blame themselves for what happened
  • withdraw, become sad and even depressed
  • may believe that their own thoughts or behaviour have somehow led to something bad happening, or that somehow it was their fault
  • be fearful of the event happening again or that people will die
  • display disassociation regarding scary things or be fearful all the time. By the age of around 8 years, children are beginning to have some understanding that death is permanent. When a loved one or pet dies this can cause them to feel anxious that they or others around them may die.
Up Next: Psychological and emotional responses

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