A guide for health and social service workers: 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 needs special attention and routine checks.
  • The most important aspect of a child’s recovery from trauma and loss is the support and understanding of their parents and trusted adults.
  • Parents can mistakenly minimise or dismiss their child’s trauma-related behaviour and may need support from practitioners to help recognise and respond to the effects of trauma and loss.
  • Following trauma and loss, it is important to explore with parents how each of their children is coping and help them to connect with and label the emotions that underlie their children’s behaviour.

Practitioners are aware that children of all ages are affected by trauma and loss. Many parents will present at a service concerned or by their infant or child’s behaviour. In some cases, the practitioner will develop concerns about a child’s social and emotional wellbeing that are not immediately obvious to parents. Children need their parents or other trusted adults to help them manage their feelings, thoughts and behaviours. Sometimes, practitioners need to engage with parents to help them to understand the best ways to support their child’s recovery from trauma and loss.

A list of typical responses

Children in middle childhood (6–8 years) 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)
  • display behaviour that they have not displayed in years such as thumb-sucking or bed-wetting
  • complain of tummy pains, headaches and nausea
  • become difficult to please, whingey and complaining
  • show mood or personality changes
  • display behaviours usually seen in much younger children
  • show increased tension and irritability
  • be startled by small noises or movements
  • display increased clinginess or fear of being alone
  • display increased tiredness because they have trouble sleeping
  • be easily distracted or unable to pay attention
  • not want to be at school or see or talk to others
  • act out by hurting others or themselves
  • show changes in normal eating patterns
  • communicate new fears or old fears coming back
  • display a lack of eye contact or a ‘spaced out’ look
  • show anxiety or constant worry about lots of things
  • blame themselves for what happened
  • show changes or delays in speech, memory or learning
  • become quiet or compliant
  • become aggressive and act out
  • 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 also die.

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