The National Institute of Mental Health (USA) defines childhood trauma as: “The experience of an event by a child that is emotionally painful or distressful, which often results in lasting mental and physical effects.”
Childhood trauma can occur when a child witnesses or experiences overwhelming negative experiences in childhood. Many childhood experiences can overwhelm a child. This can happen in relationships (e.g., abuse, neglect, violence). This is called interpersonal trauma. Children can also experience traumatic events. These include accidents, natural disasters, war and civil unrest, medical procedures, or the sudden loss of a parent/caregiver.
International surveys show that traumatic experiences are very common across the world. One study showed that nearly half of all children in the United States are exposed to at least one traumatic social or family experience (Bethell et al, 2014).
Developmental Trauma Disorder is a newer term in psychology and refers to trauma that forms during a child’s first three years. The result of abuse, neglect, psychological maltreatment, and/or abandonment. This disorder interferes with the infant or child’s neurological, cognitive, and psychological development. It disrupts one’s ability to attach to an adult caregiver. An adult who inflicts developmental trauma does not usually do it intentionally and is often not aware of the social and emotional needs of children.