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Children can be exposed to a range of traumatic experiences. Sometimes, youth may feel highly threatened by an event, and have reactions that negatively affect their daily lives.

Examples of traumatic events include:

  • Car accidents
  • Life-threatening injuries
  • Dangerous fights
  • Terrorism
  • Physical or sexual abuse
  • Medical emergencies
  • Deaths of loved ones
  • Natural disasters (e.g., hurricane, tsunami)
  • War

Youth who have a hard time coping with these events may experience difficulties including sadness and anxiety. At the same time, not all children encounter such challenges and many youth are able to overcome these situations. However, if your child appears to be having a hard time adjusting to a traumatic event long after it has occurred, you may want to take him/her to a doctor for an evaluation. If untreated, traumatic stress can cause impairment in a child’s family, school, and social life. Thankfully, there are proven and effective treatments to address these challenges and families should make every effort to begin treatment as soon as possible.



After a traumatic experience, it is common for youth to show:

  • Agitated or confused behavior
  • Intense fear
  • Helplessness
  • Anger
  • Sadness
  • Horror
  • Denial
  • Emotional numbing (dissociation)
  • Avoidance of situations or places that remind them of the trauma
  • Withdrawal

Some children may also re-experience the trauma by:

  • Having repeated memories of the event (or acting out the event in during play times)
  • Having scary dreams about the event
  • Feeling like the event is happening again
  • Feeling scared or sad when they think about the event

Children with difficulties with traumatic stress may also:

  • Worry about dying young
  • Be unable to have fun
  • Have physical pains (e.g., stomachaches, headaches)
  • Have sleep difficulties
  • Be irritable
  • Have difficulties concentrating
  • Act younger than their age (for example, clingy or whiny behavior, thumbsucking)
  • Be more alert than usual


  • 1 out of every 4 children will experience a traumatic event by age 16 years
  • 3-10 million children are exposed to domestic violence in the United States every year
  • Approximately 14% of youth clients in the Hawaii Child and Adolescent Mental Health Division receive treatment for traumatic stress every year

See What Works:

Tangible Rewards

Maintenance/Relapse Prevention

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy with Parents Included
Trauma-Focused CBT


Local support groups

Resources for talking to children about traumatic events:

Other resources about Trauma

Information for this site has been obtained from the following resources: