What is childhood trauma?

It can result from difficult experiences in childhood. These are sometimes called adverse childhood experiences. These may be:

  • Emotional, physical, or sexual abuse
  • Having a family member with severe mental illness
  • Seeing violence
  • Caregiver substance abuse
  • Parental separation or divorce
  • Living through natural disasters and accidents
  • Experiencing severe illness
  • Other events that threaten the child’s safety and well-being

How can I tell if my child is stressed because of trauma?

It may be hard to tell if your child is having trouble handling a traumatic event. If events cause too much stress, your child may show some of these signs:

  • Being unusually angry, afraid, or sad
  • Having nightmares or re-living the event through play
  • Avoiding people or places that remind your child of the event
  • Feeling numbness or shock
  • Being very tired most of the time
  • Complaining of aches or pains without a clear reason
  • Feeling helpless or hopeless

How common is childhood trauma?

Unfortunately, trauma happens often. Some children and families go through more than one trauma. This may make it harder to recover.

How can childhood trauma affect health?

Ongoing or frequent traumatic events can cause severe stress. This is called toxic stress. Toxic stress can affect brain development and the health of a child, leading to:

  • A hard time learning and doing school work
  • Aggressive or oppositional behaviors
  • A hard time making friends
  • A hard time fighting infections
  • Drug abuse, alcohol abuse, and smoking
  • Mental health problems such as anxiety or depression
  • Health conditions such as heart or lung disease

How can I protect my child from effects of trauma?

There are things you can do to protect your child. Children are very strong and can recover.

Sometimes families can care for each other and start to feel better. Other times, it can be helpful to use resources in your community, such as:

  • Talking to a provider, school counselor, or spiritual or religious guide
  • Seeking help from a therapist or other mental health provider trained in child and family trauma
  • Seeking support from family and friends
  • Financial, housing, employment, nutrition, or other state or neighborhood help
  • Helping your child build resiliency and strength by:
    • Signing them up for team activities
    • Helping them make friends
    • Encouraging them to have a healthy relationship with a caring adult
    • Giving them choices
  • Call Center Telephone: 1-800-777-8442 or 1-319-384-8442
  • Call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room if your child is in immediate danger.
  • Report suspected abuse/neglect to the Iowa Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-362-2178.

Medical Services