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November 3, 2022
October 23, 2023

What to Know about Childhood Trauma Tests

If your child has experienced a trauma, you likely have many questions and concerns. Perhaps you’re searching the web for a childhood trauma test to better understand your own traumas or traumas experienced by loved ones. While these tests can be valuable and illuminating, they aren’t a substitute for an assessment by a therapist.

If your child has experienced a trauma, you likely have many questions and concerns. Perhaps you’re searching the web for a childhood trauma test to better understand your own traumas or traumas experienced by loved ones. While these tests can be valuable and illuminating, they aren’t a substitute for an assessment by a therapist.

Here, we’ll take a look at what to know about childhood trauma tests, how childhood trauma is diagnosed and assessed by clinicians, and some basic information about childhood trauma and its impacts. Most importantly, we’ll discuss how to begin the healing process from trauma.

What Is Childhood Trauma?

Before we discuss childhood trauma assessment and childhood trauma tests, it’s important to understand what childhood trauma is.

A childhood trauma is any event or experience that is scary, violent, or threatening. These can be events that a child experiences themself or that they witness. Sometimes childhood traumas are referred to as “adverse childhood experiences” or ACEs.

Examples of childhood traumas include:      

  • Emotional or verbal abuse
  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • School violence
  • Violence in the community
  • Witnessing physical abuse, verbal abuse, sexual abuse, or domestic violence
  • Experiencing a natural disaster, act of war, or terrorism
  • Childhood neglect
  • Losing a loved one suddenly or due to violence
  • Experiencing a serious accident
  • Living with a severe illness or medical condition
  • Living in poverty
  • Living in an unstable household
  • Being raised by parents with substance abuse or mental health issues

Traumatic events and experiences can have profound effects on children, and these impacts can last into adulthood. Sadly, childhood trauma is more prevalent than many realize, with as many as two-thirds of children experiencing at least one traumatic event by the age of 16. The more traumas a child experiences, the greater the impact, but even one childhood trauma can have significant effects.

Signs of Childhood Trauma in Children

Childhood trauma manifests in different ways for different children, and children can’t always accurately articulate exactly what they are experiencing. Moreover, the way trauma is experienced changes based on a child’s age, with young children showing different signs and symptoms than older children.

Signs of trauma in young children may include:

  • An uptick in separation anxiety
  • Throwing more tantrums than usual
  • Changes in eating and sleeping patterns
  • Nightmares 

Symptoms of trauma in older elementary-aged kids can include:

  • Seeming more anxious or on edge than usual
  • Unusual feelings of shame or guilt
  • Difficulty focusing or paying attention
  • Sleeping issues and nightmares

Signs of trauma in tweens and teens can look like:

  • Symptoms of depression, anxiety, or loneliness
  • Engaging in self-destructive or self-harm behaviors
  • Changes in eating or sleeping patterns
  • Signs of eating disorders or disordered eating
  • Substance abuse issues
  • Taking part in risky behaviors

Impact of Childhood Trauma on Mental Health

Childhood trauma and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) can have significant and long-lasting impacts on physical health, education, opportunities in life, and ability to function well as an adult. For example, people who experience childhood trauma are more likely to experience substance use disorder, contract an STI, have trouble staying employed, and are at greater likelihood of developing heart disease, cancer, or diabetes.

In addition to these outcomes, childhood trauma can have profound impacts on mental health. Specifically, experiencing trauma or ACEs can cause a person to develop “toxic stress,” which is stress that’s experienced over a long period of time. Toxic stress can affect child development, and impact a child’s stress-response. Children can develop issues with learning, decision making, and may have trouble forming healthy relationships with others. They are also more likely to develop depression and anxiety disorders.

Child Trauma Assessment Tools

There are many ways that childhood trauma is assessed and evaluated. Often, people start by evaluating childhood trauma tests, such as those found online. While these tests can be helpful, it’s important to follow up with a licensed therapist if you or your child is experiencing lasting symptoms of trauma or if these symptoms are significantly impacting their mental health.

Online Childhood Trauma Tests

Many different childhood trauma tests can be found online. These tests usually require you or your child to answer some basic questions about their life. The most common childhood trauma test is the Adverse Childhood Experiences questionnaire. This test zeros in on various adverse childhood experiences, such as physical or sexual abuse, growing up in a home with a mentally unstable adult, or or experiencing childhood neglect. Studies have found that the more ACEs one has experienced, the greater the impact on mental health and overall well being.

How do Clinicians Assess for Childhood Trauma

If you believe you or your child has experienced trauma, you’ll want them to be evaluated by a licensed therapist. If you don’t have access to a licensed therapist, your child may be able to be assessed for trauma by their pediatrician, a school counselor, or even via an intervention program like Head Start.

Not all traumas are the same, and many children do not require formal treatment after a traumatic experience. However, when it is needed, it’s important that children receive prompt and thorough treatment to support a healthy recovery from traumatic experiences. Children can recover from trauma, but the sooner they receive care, the better. 

Trauma screening for children may involve asking both you and your children a series of questions. These may include questions about the traumatic event itself or about your child’s behavior and reaction. Therapists may not ask your child direct questions about their traumas, since many children will have trouble discussing their experience at first, or may find it difficult to do so. Therapists will spend time observing your child and assess them for childhood trauma symptoms.

Therapists use different systems of evaluating children for trauma. The type of assessment tools and diagnostics used may depend on the type of trauma your child is experiencing as well as their symptoms and the timeline of when the trauma occurred. There are several different types of trauma disorders in children, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), reactive attachment disorder (RAD), acute stress disorder (ASD), and adjustment disorder. 

How Parents Can Help

If your child experienced a trauma, it’s understandable that you’ll want to do whatever it takes to help your child feel better. The good news is that parents can have powerful impacts on their child’s recovery

Here are some tips for helping your child recover from trauma:

  • Teach your child to recognize signs of trauma, anxiety, and hypervigilance in their body and mind.
  • Assure your child that these symptoms are temporary, and that they should reach out to you or another trusted grown-up when they are feeling this way.
  • Make sure your child knows that the distressing feelings they are confronting are not their fault, and that they are not responsible for the trauma they experienced.
  • Teach your child exercises that help with these feelings, and help them develop feelings of safety, such as deep breathing, meditation, or visualization; you can practice these with your child. 

Therapy for Childhood Trauma

Once your child has been assessed for trauma, it’s important to decide whether ongoing therapy is the next best step. While some children can recover on their own, many children do need the assistance of a trained professional to heal from the experience of trauma.

There are many therapy modalities that can help with childhood trauma, including trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy. This type of therapy offers children a safe space to process the trauma they’ve experienced and involves talking, playing, observing, and engaging in various therapeutic learning activities. Trauma-focused CBT teaches children how to become more aware of their symptoms and triggers and helps them develop tools for managing their feelings.

Resources to Help Parents Assess Their Child's Trauma History

As you help your child heal from trauma, you should remember that you aren’t alone. Don’t hesitate to reach out to your child’s school, their pediatrician, or trusted loved ones to support you on your journey.

Additionally, there are many resources for further assistance and help. Here are some tools to get you started:

If you need further support or assistance in helping a child who has experienced trauma, don’t hesitate to reach out for a free consultation from a licensed Handspring Health therapist today. Handspring Health therapists specialize in trauma treatment and can offer you and your child the tools and support to heal from and overcome trauma in all its forms.

Works Cited

Center for Child Trauma Assessment, Services and Interventions. What is Child Trauma?

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About the CDC-Kaiser ACE Study.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fast Facts: Preventing Adverse Childhood Experiences.

Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Trauma and Stressor-related Disorders in Children.

Felitti VJ, Anda RF, Nordenberg D, et al. Relationship of childhood abuse and household dysfunction to many of the leading causes of death in adults. The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 1998;14(4):245-258. doi:10.1016/s0749-3797(98)00017-8

Gilbert LK, Breiding MJ, Merrick MT, et al. Childhood Adversity and Adult Chronic Disease: An Update from Ten States and the District of Columbia, 2010. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 2015;48(3):345-349. doi:10.1016/j.amepre.2014.09.006

National Child Traumatic Stress Network. About Child Trauma.

National Child Traumatic Stress Network. Screening and Assessment.

National Child Traumatic Stress Network. Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Recognizing and Treating Child Traumatic Stress.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Understanding Child Trauma.

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