When a child’s distress goes uncomforted and unresolved, it emerges as symptoms. These symptoms can take several forms, depending on the child’s innate temperament and their particular situation.
Internalizing & externalizing symptoms in children stress symptoms are usually divided into two distinct categories: Internalizing, or directing pain inward (depression, social withdrawal, etc.), and externalizing, or distress directed outward at the world (anger, delinquency, behavioral problems, etc.). Children may show a combination of either reaction, but on the whole they tend to fall more into one category or the other. It’s essentially the fight or flight instinct applied to distress. Some kids are inclined with a natural tendency to flee and withdraw into themselves, others respond to pain through the “fight” instinct and manifest symptoms that project this distress outward onto the world, lashing out at others.
Types of stress & trauma symptoms in children
Symptoms that emerge from trauma or mental stress can take many different forms:
1) Psychosomatic symptoms
Psychosomatic symptoms are physical ailments (headaches, stomach aches, etc.) brought on by stress, and are a common symptom of stress or trauma among all people, and especially children in the 12 and under category. (See our e-book for further information)
2) Behavioral problems
Psychological distress often shows up in the form of behavioral problems. These can include aggression or attention-seeking behavior, as well as general restlessness, agitation, or irritability. (These are further covered in our Helping Children Heal eBook)
Regression involves a child backsliding in their development to a more helpless and/or immature phase. Regressive behavior can include things like thumb sucking, reliance on a comfort item, bedwetting, speech regression, toileting accidents, and so forth.
4) Separation anxiety and other phobias
Children coping with difficult or traumatic events that threaten their sense of security often become anxious about the other important things in their life. This can give rise to a number of fears and phobias. Children may become obsessively worried about something bad happening to friends and family. They might suffer separation anxiety and begin crying whenever an adult leaves the room or exhibit other similar behaviors.
5) Sleep disturbances
A child may experience difficulties falling asleep, suddenly become reliant on adults to sleep with them, or they may experience nightmares or suffer from insomnia.
6) Social withdrawal
Children who feel threatened in some way commonly withdraw from others. This may mean suddenly becoming shy and quiet or losing interest in friends and/or other social functions.
Symptoms of shock or trauma
In rare cases, a child may exhibit signs of shock in response to an acute trauma. This may be evidenced by in-cohesiveness, speechlessness, inconsolable crying, or a child going mute and refusing to talk.