By: Dr. Mark Lerner
Unfortunately, a significant number of young institutionalized children are exposed to traumatic events. These include, but are certainly not limited to, neglect, physical and sexual abuse and various degrees of abandonment. By having an understanding of traumatic stress and how it impacts young children, we can identify post-traumatic stress reactions and address the unique emotional and behavioral needs of these children.
New York It’s important to understand that traumatic stress, and post-traumatic stress, are not synonymous with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The former are very normal human reactions that are experienced in the face of abnormal events.
The latter, PTSD, it a mental disorder marked by a significant disruption in functioning over time (e.g., recurrent and intrusive distressing recollections of the event, distressing dreams, flashbacks, difficulty concentrating, hyper-vigilance, an exaggerated startle response, and a host of avoidance behaviors).
Traumatic stress typically refers to the emotional, cognitive, behavioral and physiological experience of individuals who are exposed to, or who witness, events that overwhelm their coping and problem-solving abilities.
These events are often unexpected and uncontrollable. They compromise an individual’s sense of safety and security and leave people feeling insecure and vulnerable. Traumatic stress disables people, causes disease, precipitates mental disorders, leads to substance abuse, and destroys relationships and families. In the case of the young institutionalized child, immature behaviors, behaviors that were typically abandoned in the past, are often manifested (e.g., thumbs sucking, bed wetting, fear of the dark, loss of bladder control, speech difficulties, decreases in appetite, clinging and whining, and separation difficulties).
As these children become older, they may manifest periods of sadness and crying, poor concentration, fears of personal harm, aggressive behaviors, withdrawal/social isolation, attention-seeking behavior, anxiety and fears, etc.
Since preschool-age children do not yet possess the cognitive skills to understand a traumatic experience and since they lack the coping strategies to deal effectively with it, they look to adults in their environment for support and comfort. Unfortunately, the young institutionalized child may not find that comfort in their facility. They may not be exposed to adult figures who model an adaptive response in the face of adversity and who appropriately address their fears of abandonment. This experience only serves to reinforce feelings of loneliness.
It is critical to look beyond the physical and safety needs of young institutionalized children, and understand and address their emotional and behavioral needs. A mental health professional who is knowledgeable about traumatic stress, and how traumatic events impact young children, can be an invaluable resource in addressing the unique needs of the young institutionalized child.
By Mark Lerner, Ph.D. Submit Your Question Disclaimer The information and advice provided is intended to be general information, NOT as advice on how to deal with a particular child’s situation and or problem. If your child has a specific problem you need to ask your pediatrician about it – only after a careful history and physical exam can a medical diagnosis and/or treatment plan be made. This Web site does not constitute a physician-patient relationship.
Dr. Mark Lerner is a Clinical Psychologist and Traumatic Stress Consultant who focuses on helping people during and in the aftermath of traumatic events. He is the President of the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress (www.aaets.org) and the originator of the Acute Traumatic Stress Management intervention model (www.atsm.org). Dr. Lerner wrote and produced the newly released audio book, Surviving and Thriving: Living Through a Traumatic Experience (www.DrMarkLerner.com).
Dr. Lerner consults regularly with individuals, schools and organizations—where he specializes in the education, training and implementation of Acute Traumatic Stress Management and the development of organizational and school-based crisis management teams. Dr. Lerner has conducted numerous interviews, including CNN Headline News, the Los Angeles Times, Newsweek, Self Magazine, Stars u0026amp; Stripes, Reuters, the Associated Press and U.S. News u0026amp; World Report. Most recently, he appeared on Dateline NBC.
Dr. Lerner also collaborates with the physicians of Adoptiondoctors.com , an innovative International Adoption Private Practice dedicated to helping parents and adoption agencies with the complex Adoption related medical and psychological concerns. This portal has become the GO TO place for Adoption related medical, psychological and social issues. All medical interactions are performed via, e-mail, express mail, telephone and fax. There is no need to make a live appointment or travel outside of you hometown. Blind referral and support services now available during your trip.
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