How Childhood Trauma Shapes Your Personality

Psychologist Kate Eshleman, PsyD, says that often, children can move on from traumatic events and thrive. But they may need a helping hand. “There are things parents and caregivers can do to support a child after trauma.”

Child health experts often talk about adverse childhood experiences (sometimes called ACEs) — traumatic events in a child’s life.

Some ACEs are clearly terrifying — such as abuse, witnessing extreme violence or surviving a natural disaster. “Parents should be mindful that even though an event might not seem traumatic to them, it may have been traumatic for their child,” she says.Trauma can leave a stamp at any age. But children who experience an adverse event before the age of 8 may be particularly vulnerable.Chronic or repeated exposure to adverse events increases the risk of lasting health problems. Children who witness repeated violence in an unsafe neighborhood, or those who are abused, are more likely to have long-term problems than a child who experiences a one-time event, such as a car crash.

Past traumas can stay with a child — and even affect their physical health. Children who experience traumatic events have a greater chance of developing health conditions, including:

There are two main ways that trauma can cause those lingering effects, Dr. Eshleman explains:

Physical responses

“The body responds to emotional stress in much the same way it responds to physical stress,” Dr. Eshleman says.

Childhood Trauma’s Lasting Effects on Mental and Physical Health