Refugees and Trauma

What is the Impact of Trauma?

Events that refugees have experienced related to war or persecution can all be called “traumatic events.” It is important to note that children are very resilient and can often cope with difficult experiences and events in healthy and productive ways. Such children may not display any symptoms and may not need service providers to intervene. However, for some children, exposure to traumatic events has a profound and lasting effect on their daily functioning. Exposure to traumatic events can cause the following general symptoms in children of all ages:




What Are the Age-Specific Effects of Trauma?

The impact of exposure to traumatic events on children may be different depending on the child’s age and stage of development. There are some signs of distress as a result of exposure to traumatic events that are specific to a child’s developmental stage. For example:

Preschool children may experience:

  • Bed wetting
  • Thumb sucking
  • Acting younger than their age
  • Trouble separating from their parents
  • Temper tantrums
  • Aggressive behavior like hitting, kicking, throwing things, or biting
  • Not playing with other kids their age
  • Repetitive playing out of events related to trauma exposure

Elementary school children may experience:

  • Changes in their behavior such as aggression, anger, irritability, withdrawal from others, and sadness
  • Trouble at school
  • Trouble with peers
  • Fear of separation from parents
  • Fear of something bad happening

Middle school and high school aged youth may experience:

  • A sense of responsibility or guilt for the bad things that have happened
  • Feelings of shame or embarrassment
  • Feelings of helplessness
  • Changes in how they think about the world
  • Loss of faith
  • Problems in relationships including peers, family, and teachers
  • Conduct problems

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