Trauma and its Impact on Childhood and Child Development

The literature on traumas of childhood and its effect on them in the form of
permanent atypical behavior due to traumatic experiences, violence, and neglect
suggest that the violence either results in the child being antisocial or to the other
extreme of being unreasonably willing to socialize with any stranger. The effect is
also shown as either of developing nature of being scared, frightened and
conserved or of being violent themselves. Further, such violence and traumatic
experience have been studied upon in anthropological literature and categorized
on the basis of setting, perpetrator, type and severity, age and gender, and
cultural context. The study details the various aspects of the body which
are affected such as the neurodevelopmental and psychological development of the
child. The study has been further extended to lay down the essential yet brief
ways to prevent and avoid traumatic experiences and make the social institutions
a place with a conducive atmosphere for every child’s growth.
“Trauma is personal. It does not disappear if it is not validated. When it is
ignored or invalidated the silent screams continue internally heard only by the
one held captive. When someone enters the pain and hears the screams
healing can begin. ”(Danielle Bernick)

The International Year of the Child in 1979 posed an international wake-up call to
the deplorable state of children in many parts of the world (James & Prout 1997,
Stephens 1995). In contrast to the idealized Western view of childhood as a life
stage filled with play, school, friends, and family, attention turned to children
devastated by famine, warfare, and preventable diseases as documented by
publications from organizations such as UNICEF and Save the Children(Korbin
2007, 431-432).This review studies violence directed towards children as well as
violence exhibited by children.

As a broad topic of Trauma is, classification of the types of trauma plays a crucial
part in understanding the topic comprehensively. The established classification
ranges from factors that are inevitable such as community violence, domestic
violence, childhood trauma to factors which come across as a surprise even
though very prevalent in the society such as sexual abuse, terrorism, neglect and
physical abuse. There are various approaches that can be taken forward to
organize a discussion about traumas due to the enumeration of violence to which
children may be subjected. The foremost being classification on the basis of the
setting in which violence occurs. Children experience traumas due to cases of
violence in situations of war, in dangerous neighborhoods, on the streets, in
factories and also in settings which conventionally term as a region of utmost
safety. But empirical evidence suggests otherwise. The regions referred to above
are places such as the home, school, and playground, this collectively termed as
community violence. Community violence includes predatory violence (robbery,
for example) and violence that comes from personal conflicts between people
who are not family members(NCTSN, 2007). It may include brutal acts such as
shootings, rapes, stabbings, and beatings. Children may experience such trauma
as victims, witnesses, or perpetrators. The second type of classification can be
categorized based on whether the perpetrator is a parent, stranger, another child,
the child himself/herself, or a larger political entity. This calls out for an important
issue which is trauma due to domestic violence, which can be by parents or by
partners. The latter will be discussed later. Third, violence can be categorised by
method and severity. Trauma due to violence on and by children can be in
the form of physical, sexual, verbal, and emotional, collectively termed as
complex trauma and can range from being relatively less intense to serious and
life-threatening. In the case of sexual trauma, it could be in the form of domestic
violence wherein intimate partner violence and sexual violence between adults in
an intimate relationship. Fourthly, one can choose the approach that connects
violence to classes of age and/or gender. The younger the age at which a child is
removed from adversity and placed in a nurturing, safe, and stimulating home,
the greater the expectable improvement. This could also be related to medical
trauma which are reactions that children and their families may have, to pain,
injury, and serious illness; or “invasive” medical procedures (such as surgery) or
treatments (such as burn care) that are sometimes frightening. These are
sometimes gender-matched in some communities.(Korbin 2003, 432-433)
Lastly, discussions can be organized on the basis of the difference in the
definitions of culture and violence across cultural contexts. Conclusively, violence
toward children can be classified by setting, perpetrator, type and severity, age
and gender, and cultural context.

A growing body of research links childhood experiences of abuse and neglect
with serious lifelong problems including depression and suicide but also
aggression, drug abuse. Scientists have begun to understand the mechanisms
through which these adverse experiences alter child development and produce
pernicious mental, medical, and social outcomes. These insights have opened
opportunities to intervene to prevent maltreatment and to mitigate its effects.
Future success depends on the greater dissemination and refinement of these
interventions. (Putnam 2007,1)
Mayall, 2000 observed an increased interest in children across the world and the
harms faced by them spread over the past several decades and also focused on the
unacceptably poor conditions becoming a part of childhood. James & Prout, 1997
and Stephens, 1995 says that The International Year of the Child in 1979 acted as
an international wake-up call to the truly deplorable state of children across the
different parts of the world. The shift was seen from the idealized Western view of
childhood as a life stage filled with play, school, friends, and family, to children
devastated by warfare, famine, and also preventable diseases which were being
documented by publications from world organizations such as UNICEF and Save
the Children. (Korbin 2003, 431-432)
The United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989 highlighted
collaborative international efforts to apply basic and fundamental human rights to
children, which sadly wasn’t given global attention earlier. (Korbin 2003, 432)
The Convention, consisting of 54 articles, has 3 basic guiding principles. The first
principle is the provision of necessary resources for the well-being and survival of
the children. The second principle, protection, holds that children should and
protected and shielded from harm. The third provision, participation, mandates
that children and youth should be an active part of the decision-making process
concerning their lives and welfare as their age and maturity allow. (Korbin 2003,

The classification on the basis of settings in which violence occurs cannot be
clearly done. Children may experience community violence at home, in school,
on the playground, in the street, or violence in conditions of war.
Edwards, Holden, and Felitti, & Anda, 2003 talk about how Depression is at least
3 to 5 times more common in individuals with histories of childhood abuse. In fact,
studies shown by Dube et al., 2001 tells us that victim children who have been
abused are about 12 times more likely to attempt suicide than non-abused
individuals. Engels and Moisan, & Harris, 1994 have mentioned the report
by the esteemed National Institute on Drug Abuse, roughly two-thirds of people in
rehabilitation programs report being abused in childhood. (Putnam 2007, 1)
Zeanah & Smyke, 2005 pointed out that two basic clinical patterns of research
and development have been observed. The first being an emotionally withdrawn
behavior in which the child shows a lack of initiation or response to social
interaction with caregivers, coupled with anomalous social behaviors such as
inhibited, hypervigilant, or atypical ambivalent reactions. The second being the
other far end of the road where the child shows an indiscriminately loss or
reduction of inhibition, manifested by a pattern of seeking comfort, support, and
nurturance from any available adult. Additionally, the pattern shows a lack of
normal social reservation or restraint with unfamiliar adults including a willingness
to “go off” with strangers. (Putnam 2007, 6)

The bottom line is that the culture in which a child is brought up molds the child’s
personality. Children in aggressive cultures become aggressive. Additionally,
Boys exercised more aggression except in those setting in which both the gender
engaged in identical tasks. It’s important to note that the terms that include social
aspects such as dominance and egoism substituted the term aggression.
LaFontaine 1991 states, just because the acts reflecting aggression and violence
were put up by children, they may be seen as a temporary phase that is bound to
get solved or changed later or childish behavior that will be outgrown. Vizard
et al. 1995, On the same lines, talked about how it took constant and dedicated
professional efforts to gain awareness that sexual assault at the child-to-child
level required to be taken more seriously than undermining it as a
boys-will-be-boys stage of sexual curiosity. Or that, such aggression that is
tolerated in the home would be unacceptable in other social institutions or settings
as believed by Straus et al. 1980. (Korbin 2007, 439)
Young soldiers are primary the children who have victimized themselves or
witnessed violence against family members and peers. This youth if have been
orphaned or left without family may form a fierce loyalty to their unit and officers
as a substitute for their own lost families. The unhooked children then feel secure
by being associated with some social institution. They might have lost loved ones,
making them dedicated fighters operating under the motivation of revenge. The
thoughts of their own children or associates do not come across their mind.
Combat may be seen by them as a way to increase self-esteem and adulation,
gaining “instant adult respect”, as said by Peters & Richards, 1998. Korbin &
Coulton 1997 anticipated that the problem has arisen to such an extent that in
Cleveland, Ohio, neighborhood adults expressed hesitancy to interfere with other
people’s children because they anticipated that not only the parents but also the
child would respond with aggression. (Korbin 2007, 440)
Deviant social behaviors such as aggression, increased sexualization
commonly seen in maltreated victims, along with the traumatic effects on
attention, learning, intelligence leads to the increased school dropout and
expulsion rates for abused children compared to non-abused children. Holowka,
King, Saheb, Pukall, & Brunet, 2003 think that they are also, unfortunately,
significantly more likely to be arrested for serious crimes as juveniles and as
adults as well. (Putnam 2003, 2)
Perry, 2001 mentioned that disorganized or disoriented attachment, formally
known as Type D attachment is associated with very negative behavioral
outcomes, the majority of such manifestation is in the form of violence and
aggression, in maltreated children. Green & Goldwyn, 2002; Lyons-Ruth and
Alpern & Repacholi, 1993 have observed that type D attachment is shown in
high levels in children brought up and reared in orphanages and other minimal
care institutions. Moreover, Children falling under type D have poorer outcomes
across many fields, including lower academic attainment, lack of self-esteem,
poor social interactions, absurd and atypical classroom behaviors, cognitive
immaturity, to name a few. The cause of type D attachment is associated with
various features of caretaker behavior. Frightening and frightening behavior by a
caretaker has been shown to increase disoriented attachment in young
children. (Putnam 2007, 6)

A significant amount of research substantiates that abuse and neglect during
childhood chain up with grave life-long problems, which include social issues
such as depression, suicide, alcoholism and drug abuse. Not to forget it is also
the reason for serious medical problems such as heart disease, cancer and
diabetes. Recent works by scientists reflect the understanding of the machinery
between the experience of abuse and its effect as it hampers child development
and creates a negative and hard impression on the mental, medical and social
sphere. The work essentially lays down two basic processes that are affected
by experiences of abuse and neglect, neurodevelopmental and psychological
development. It also concludes about such impact being reflected and
experienced much more in adults who were abused as children than children
who have been abused. Amongst others, adults face mental illness, substance
abuse, and deteriorated physical health as an impact. In addition, such adults are
comparatively less likely to complete their education or to be employed than their
non-abused peers. Conclusively, abuse and neglect have lasting consequences
on a person’s life. (Putnam 2003, 1)

Child Development: Neurodevelopmental and Psychosocial Development
Zeanah & Smyke, 2005 laid down the direct relationship between
neurodevelopment and duration of exposure to the neglectful and abusive
atmosphere as also. Further, physically and sexually abused children have
shown a decrease in the size of various brain regions than in age and gender-matched
non-abused children. Such decline affects important functioning like planning and
exercising judgment. The decreases in brain size were correlated with increases
in post-traumatic and behavioral symptoms.
The effect on psychosocial development is primarily due to distress. The
distress is due to lose or threat of loss of a specific person with whom the sufferer
has an enduring emotional relationship, a person which provides a sense of
safety, comfort and pleasure as mentioned by Perry, 2002.
Prior traumatic experiences and maltreatment increase levels of circulating
cortisol reacting negatively to stress and trauma which kills and targets the
neurons in critical brain regions. This loss leads to psychosocial problems with
logical thinking and social behavior as seen in abused children. In this way,
neurodevelopmental damage results in psychosocial problems.(Putnam 2003, 6)

To prevent child abuse and neglect and to ensure optimum psychosocial
development, it is critical to help families provide three basic components for their
children. The first is adequate nutrition to ensure healthy physical development
and resistance to illness. The second factor is a stimulating early environment.
The third component is a healthy, secure, and loving relationship with a primary
caregiver. (Putnam 2003, 7)

The study above deals with the issue of the impact of trauma on childhood and child
development with a theoretical as well as a practical approach. The awareness
about the happenings of violence and its traumatic effects upon the lives of
children have been discussed in detail. The review was primarily based on the
research papers Children, Childhood and Violence- Jill E. Korbin and Impact of
Trauma on Child Development- Frank W. Putnam. The review has been further
elaborated and concise to reflect the interaction between the cause and effect of
violence, neglect and maltreatment of children and its resulting effect on the
traumatized individuals in childhood and adult lives. Further reference has been
taken from the organization’s webpage, National Child Traumatic Stress
Network. Lastly, as a contribution to the literature, aiding the path of the United
Nation on spreading awareness, essential practices of prevention has been
discussed. Nevertheless, trauma and violence of children is a stark reality and
only hope and awareness help the case.

Korbin, Jill E. 2003. Annual Review of Anthropology: Children, Childhood and Violence: Annual
Putnam, Frank W. 2006. Juvenile and Family Court Journal: Impact of Trauma on Child
National Child Traumatic Stress Network, 2007.

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