flowers-summer-grass-meadow-largeBy Peter Levine

childhood trauma – understanding the basis of change and recovery

Although anyone – regardless of strength, capability, or experience – can be traumatized by a threatening event, those at greatest risk are infants and young children.

Any unusual behavior that begins shortly after a severely frightening episode may indicate that your child is traumatized. Compulsive, repetitive mannerisms – such as repeatedly zooming a toy car into a doll – are an almost sure sign of an unresolved reaction to a traumatic event. (The activity may or may not be a literal replay of the trauma.) Other signs of traumatic stress include persistent controlling behaviors, tantrums, uncontrollable rage attacks, hyperactivity, an exaggerated startle reflex, recurring night terrors or nightmares, thrashing while asleep, bedwetting, inability to concentrate in school, forgetfulness, excessive belligerence or shyness, withdrawal or fearfulness, extreme clinginess, and stomachaches or other ailments of unknown origin.

To find out whether an uncustomary behavior is indeed a traumatic reaction, try mentioning the frightening episode and see how your child responds. A traumatized child will not want to be reminded of the predisposing event – or conversely, once reminded, will become excited, or fearful and unable to stop talking about it. A traumatized child may also respond with silence.

As you can see childhood trauma and understanding the basis of change and recovery can be complex. At Marin Therapy Partners Dr. Brennan specializes in working with parents to help them understand and recover from traumatic experiences.

If you have questions or would like to know more about the treatment of trauma call 415 453-1402 or email To schedule an appointment

For further reading

Trauma Through A Child’s Eyes by Dr. Peter Levine and Maggie Kline

Please see our articles on the treatment of Trauma for more information.