The acute post-traumatic period is characterized by an attempt by the child to reorganize, reevaluate and restore their pre-traumatic world. Many of the emotional, behavioral and cognitive signs and symptoms of the acute post-traumatic period are due to these efforts. Unfortunately, children often do not have the same capacity to understanding or explaining most traumatic experiences. Young children may make many false assumptions about the event—"the tornado came because God was mad."

As with most situations, children seek answers and comfort from adults around them, yet we often feel helpless in this role. Indeed, most traumatic experiences challenge the most mature and experienced adult. While adults do not have all the answers, they can help children better understand the traumatic event and the ways we respond following trauma.

This simple guide addresses some of the key issues related to the child's complex set of reactions that often follow traumatic events. While focused on caregivers, this information may be helpful to caseworkers, teachers, other family and other adults working and living with traumatized children.

This guide is intended to inform and provide general principles—it is not intended to be comprehensive or to exclude other observations or approaches to helping traumatized children. The more we understand these children and the impact of traumatic experiences, the more compassionate and wise we can be as we try to help these children.
© Bruce D. Perry, MD, PhD and the ChildTrauma Academy. For more information about the work of the ChildTrauma Academy, please visit


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