Combatting Childhood Trauma: Prevention & Repair

I’ve written about childhood trauma before, but this will take a more scientific, empirical approach to acknowledging our childhood traumas and how we can prevent and repair the trauma of the children in our lives.

Several scholarly research articles showcase the effects of childhood trauma and how childhood trauma affects children and adolescents. So let’s get some of the basic definitions out of the way.

The American Psychological Association[1] defines a traumatic event as an event that threatens injury, death, or danger to the self as well as causing fear, terror, and helplessness at the time of occurrence. When these events happen during childhood (and even adolescence), it can lead to a lag in mental processes or disorders such as certain types of mental illness such as PTSD, generalized anxiety disorder, and even personality disorders. There could be many complications that arise from childhood trauma, even physical issues such as IBS.

It is worth acknowledging that childhood trauma affects each individual differently. Obviously, we know that – biologically – boys and girls are different; we also understand that each developmental stage is different. So trauma that happens to a baby is going to have different effects than the trauma that happens to a child and so on. Keep in mind that I’m talking about the range of effects, not severity since it can be a subjective notion. Considering Erik Erikson’s Psychosocial Stages of Development[3], we can gauge the different outcomes that could come from childhood trauma.

  • During infancy, the core psychosocial function is trust vs. mistrust, which is receiving regular care/affection with a heavy reliance on survival needs. This stage is usually from birth to 18 months, so this is when the infant should be able to learn basic survival functions such as eating, drinking, basic motor functions, and sleep regulation. Developmentally, they begin to foster a sense of object permanence – or the understanding that just because something is out of sight, it still exists. It is within this stage that the infant can learn to withdraw from stimuli as they can learn the concept of “this is my caregiver, they meet my needs” and if the caregiver hurts them, then it creates mistrust. Suddenly, things don’t feel affectionate anymore, then the environment feels hostile.
  • During early childhood, it is the stage of autonomy vs. shame. Occurring between 18 months and two to three years, children begin to learn self-control. If they do not have an adequate amount of self-sufficient influence, they can develop compulsive behavior. Lack of self-control, feeling the need to behave in a negative fashion towards others or the self, can develop in the face of childhood trauma.
  • During the play age or childhood, we see the stage of initiative versus guilt. During this stage, the child develops their basic purposes. This is usually the preschool age (age four to five). The caregiver is supposed to encourage the child’s dreams, regardless of what they are, to instill in the children confidence and support. Without support from their most basic caregiver, they face guilt in the choices of their likes and dreams. They begin to doubt themselves and lose interest.
  • Lastly, during childhood, is the school age. This is usually until age eleven and is namely known as the stage of industry vs. inferiority. In this stage, it is necessary to have standards or expectations so that when expectations are met, they are rewarded. This develops competence in the child, they begin to believe in themselves more because they can associate a reward with a positive result. Without set expectations (no matter how big or how small), there is no baseline for the child to meet so there are no motivational skills to keep going. It is a snowball effect from the third stage, losing confidence.

For the sake of the blog topic, I’ll stop here with childhood (but if you want an adolescent version, I will definitely post a blog for it!)

Any trauma that occurs during a child’s lifetime can affect their developing cognitive skills that they need to function as they get older. Depending on what stage a specific traumatic event may have occurred, it could impact them in different ways. With a better understanding of how childhood trauma can be a big deal, we can move on to how to acknowledge our own childhood trauma, as referenced in my previous childhood trauma blog.

  • If you’ve already been through therapy before, you should know that the first thing is to acknowledge what happened, happened. There is no changing that. Once you face the ugliness of the situation, it becomes easier to deal with because you can put it past you. It’s done, it’s over. Now let’s repair.
  • If you still haven’t been to therapy at this point, get connected to someone who can help you find what’s best for you. As a life coach, I can help you decide if life coaching is a great addition to your life, or to get you connected to a licensed counselor or therapist who can better assist you.
  • Allow for your friends and family to help you. Also, make sure to set boundaries if you feel your friends and family are being too pushy.
  • Take your time to come to a place of acceptance about the things you may have experienced. It may take years, but that’s okay. The point is that you, personally, come to a place of acceptance – a new perspective, if you will. And that perspective may even change, but that’s the point. It means your cognitive brain is working, processing.
  • If you find yourself in a place where you can healthily acknowledge your flaws, then slowly replace the bad habit with good habits.
  • Lastly, and most importantly, be patient with yourself.

Now, let’s look at how we can prevent traumatic effects on children in our lives. This won’t be long, because it’s an issue that I have a hard time finding empirical research on, so we must make our own deductions based on parental influence, social cognitive theory, and cognitive development. A study[2] showed that the behaviors of families can have an impact on the next generation, so if there was a lack of basic emotional and physical needs, that can negatively affect the next generation. Even if the direct neglect was not imposed on the child, a child experiencing loud, dramatic arguments can affect the child by creating anxiety. Unstable housing can cause for developmental delays or cognitive delays due to the constant fear of “when we are moving next?” or viewing every house, relationship, or situation as temporary. We can, essentially, prevent childhood trauma by ensuring we are capable of having and caring for children. I understand that no one parent will be perfect, but we can at least create the basic factors of ideal support and environment. It has nothing to do with socioeconomic status, but sadly, socioeconomic status affects the ability to be able to care for children, creating those loopholes of inadvertent trauma.

That’s why it’s so important to be “ready” to have children, to be able to tackle the emotional needs that play into their development. It’s also important to acknowledge that traumatized people can be adequate parents, but the key is if they really commit to their own mental health. There’s so many factors that can play into this, which is why we should just be more mindful and accepting of the experiences that we all may or may not face.

[1]American Psychological Association. (2008). Children and Trauma: Update for Mental Health Professionals. American Psychological Association.

[2]Garcia, P. R. J. M., Sharma, P., De Massis, A., Wright, M., & Scholes, L. (2019). Perceived Parental Behaviors and Next-Generation Engagement in Family Firms: A Social Cognitive Perspective. Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice43(2), 224–243.

[3]Orenstein, G. A., Lewis, L. (2022). Eriksons stages of psychosocial development. Statpearls.

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