Responses to Traumatic Experiences, Age by Age

Responses to trauma look different at every stage of development.

Every child’s response to traumatic experiences is unique, but these experiences affect one’s whole body and entire emotional world. Here are some things to watch for. At any age, children may:

  • seek or demand more attention,
  • show aggression,
  • seem withdrawn,
  • startle easily,
  • have sleep problems,
  • have separation anxiety or show fear of certain adults,
  • cry for reasons adults can’t figure out,
  • show regressive behaviors (such as wetting the bed after being potty trained),
  • show increased irritability, and
  • display sadness.

Birth to 2

Infants and toddlers may:

  • have digestive problems and low appetite and weight,
  • possess weaker verbal skills and more memory problems than older children, and
  • have exaggerated emotional responses (such as screaming or crying).

Ages 3 to 6

Young children may:

  • have difficulty focusing in school,
  • have delays with certain skills or demonstrate learning disabilities,
  • act out with anger in social situations,
  • become anxious or fearful,
  • have “thoughts that won’t stop”,
  • develop low self-confidence or feelings of mistrust toward others,
  • have stomachaches and/or headaches, and
  • “act out” the trauma in play, drawing, or speaking.


Schuder, M. R., & Lyons-Ruth, K. (2004). “Hidden trauma” in infancy: Attachment, fearful arousal, and early dysfunction of the stress response system. In J. Osofsky (Ed.), Young Children and Trauma: Intervention and Treatment, pp. 69–104. New York: The Guilford Press.

Main, M., & Solomon, J. (1990). In M. T. Greenberg, D. Cicchetti, & M. Cummings. (Eds.). Attachment in the preschool years: Theory, research, and intervention, pp. 121–160. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Zero to Three/National Center for Clinical Infant Programs. (2005). Diagnostic Classification of Mental Health and Developmental Disorders of Infancy and Early Childhood, Revised Edition. Arlington, VA: Author.

Lieberman, A. F., & Van Horn, P. (2008). Psychotherapy with infants and young children: Repairing the effects of stress and trauma on early attachment. New York: The Guilford Press.