A child may be scared of the dark at a young age and grow out of it. But true traumatic events can have such an impact on children that they can last a lifetime.
Dr. George "Tripp" Ake, a licensed psychologist at the Center for Child and Family Health in Durham, spoke at the annual State of the Child Conference held last week at the Havelock Tourist and Event Center.
The conference focused on childhood trauma and its effects as well as how Social Services workers, daycare employees and others who work with care of children can build resiliency in children.
About 150 people attended the event, which featured speakers, informational displays from organizations and businesses that focus on children and singing from First United Methodist Church preschool children in Havelock.
Ake said trauma can take all types of forms, from child neglect or abuse to growing up with domestic violence, substance abuse or mental illness in the home. However, he said just because a child experiences such situations does not necessarily mean he or she has experienced trauma.
"So many kinds of things can happen to children," he said. "They can witness violence or disasters or war.
"But what we’re not saying is if a child experienced that, they’ve been automatically traumatized. Sometimes a child can be broken and they will carry that with them the rest of their lives, but you have to be careful. Two kids can see the same thing, and one could really have trouble with it and the other won’t."
He pointed to statistics that show 25 percent of children by the age of 16 experience at least one traumatic incident. He also said a study showed that 50 percent of school-age children in domestic violence situations exhibited symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder.
He said that parents who think they hide such instances from their children should think again.
"If you ask the parents, they will say the child was asleep in the room and didn’t know anything," he said. "But if you ask the kids, they can give you play-by-play of what happened."
Ake pointed to a study on adverse childhood experiences that indicates the higher number of such experiences, the higher the rate of attempted suicides during adolescence.
He said the study also showed a link between adverse childhood experiences and smoking, depression, drug use, obesity, alcoholism and early sexual activity.
He said that is why childhood caregivers need to help build resiliency in children.
"If we can predict these things earlier, we can help prevent them later," he said. "The more adverse childhood experiences, the more problems they will have. It really, really connects to how we live our lives every day."
He said parents should keep an eye on behavioral changes in their children to help identify potential problems.
"That’s how kids show us what’s going on because they don’t have the words to tell us what’s going on," he said.
Ake said the key is to get help for children who are showing effects from a traumatic event.
"Children are still growing up and they are not broken," he said.