A guide for health and social service workers: Common reactions to trauma and loss by children aged 9-12 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 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 the 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 later childhood (9–12 years) may:

  • show their distress and emotions though their behaviour and bodily complaints, such as tummy pains, headaches, poor concentration and inability to follow instructions
  • show regressed behaviour such as baby talk or acting younger than their age
  • act aggressively or with bravado, or become destructive
  • act out by hurting others or themselves, taking risks, or getting into fights with others
  • withdraw from friends or family members
  • become sad and preoccupied with death and loss
  • attach themselves to others, seek security and experience guilt
  • show a range of grieving emotions such as anger, denial and despair
  • show a new awareness of death or want to talk about death and destruction more than usual
  • display an increased interest in what happens during and after death
  • not express their grief or sadness, find it difficult to talk about it, or pretend everything is fine, deny it happened, or say they don’t care.
  • display mood or personality changes
  • be startled by small noises or movements
  • not want to be at school or see/talk to others
  • withdraw into themselves, not speaking to others or seeing their friends
  • display changes in normal eating
  • show increased tiredness or sleeping in class
  • communicate new fears or old fears returning
  • display a lack of eye contact or a ‘spaced out’ look
  • show anxiety or worry about lots of things
  • make efforts to avoid reminders of the event
  • show changes or delays in speech, memory or learning
  • have a new awareness of death and mortality
  • rebel against or show disdain for authority
  • have academic difficulties or trouble at school.
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