About Adversity, Trauma and Resilience
Childhood adversity and trauma are related ideas about experiences that cause harm to children. Sources of adversity and trauma are found in children’s homes, their schools and in their communities. Resilience is about rebounding from adversity and overcoming or lessening the effects of trauma.
What is Childhood Adversity?
Adverse childhood experiences can affect the development of children and lead to poor physical and mental health in both children and adults. Adverse experiences include:
- Exposure to violence
- Abuse and neglect
- Bullying and peer harassment
- Unexpected medical events
- Natural disasters
- Racism, prejudice, and discrimination
What is Childhood Trauma?
Traumatic events are highly stressful and often frightening, dangerous and violent experiences that can produce feelings of hopelessness, fear and anxiety in some children. Not all forms of childhood adversity are traumatic, but many are. Whether an event is traumatic depends on:
- What a child experiences (type of exposure)
- The seriousness of the event (severity of exposure)
- The duration or length of exposure
- Access to supports and interventions
What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?
Some children may experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which is a psychiatric condition characterized by symptoms such as intrusive thoughts, sleep disturbances, nightmares, hyperarousal, changes in memory and concentration, and startle responses. Not all children who experience trauma develop PTSD.
What is Resilience?
How children react to adversity and traumatic events can differ. Resilience is defined as “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress” (American Psychological Association, 2012). Resilience is more likely when a child:
- Feels safe and nurtured following a traumatic event
- Has access to social and emotional supports
- Has strong positive relationships with adults and peers
- Has strong social, emotional, and problem-solving skills