Trauma and Children A Guide For Newborn to Two Years

Trauma and Children A Guide For Newborn to Two Years
Written by Editor
January 1, 2024

Discovering the world through the eyes of a child is one of life’s most profound experiences. Every smile, laugh, and step taken holds within it a world of discovery and wonder. But, when trauma intervenes in these formative years, it casts a shadow that can profoundly affect both the child and the caregiver. If you’re a parent or caregiver navigating this challenging path, this guide is designed with you in mind, aiming to provide clarity, support, and understanding as you journey through these trying times.

Types of Early Childhood Trauma

Trauma in young children can manifest in various ways, so it’s crucial to identify and understand the specific type of trauma to provide the appropriate care and support. Here are some common forms of trauma that can affect infants and toddlers:

  • Physical Abuse: Instances of intentional harm or injury inflicted on a child, resulting in bruises, fractures, or other physical injuries.
  • Emotional Abuse: This can involve constant criticism, rejection, or humiliation that impacts the child’s self-worth and emotional well-being.
  • Neglect: When a child’s basic needs for food, shelter, clothing, and affection aren’t met, leading to development and health issues.
  • Household Dysfunction: Living in environments marred by substance abuse, mental health issues, or domestic violence impacts a child’s sense of safety and security.
  • Medical Trauma: Chronic illnesses, surgeries, or hospitalizations can lead to feelings of fear and anxiety.

How are Babies and Toddlers Affected by Trauma?

The truth is that children at this tender age are highly susceptible to their environments. So, while the impacts of trauma can vary, they often lead to noticeable changes in behavior, development, and emotional well-being. Here are the top signs you’re dealing with a child who’s experienced trauma at a young age: 

Behavioral Changes

Infants and toddlers may become more irritable, have difficulty sleeping, or show signs of developmental regression, like thumb-sucking or bed-wetting. They may also become excessively clingy or fearful, indicating their increased anxiety.

Emotional Impact

Feelings of insecurity and anxiety can manifest. The child might become more withdrawn or, conversely, more aggressive. These emotional signals are their way of expressing the turmoil the child is experiencing internally.

Developmental Delays

Trauma can impede developmental milestones. In fact, delays in speech, motor skills, or cognitive abilities can occur. Such delays are a result of the child’s energy being diverted towards coping with their emotional and psychological stresses.

Common Trauma Reactions in Infants and Toddlers

When trauma knocks on the early doors of a child’s life, its echoes can be seen and felt in their behaviors and reactions. Understanding these signs is a vital step in offering the nuanced support and care that our young ones need to navigate through these stormy waters. Here’s what you need to know: 


It’s not uncommon for traumatized infants and toddlers to retreat into a shell, becoming less active or responsive. They might seem unusually quiet, detached, or uninterested in their surroundings.


In contrast, some little ones react by becoming overly clingy, exhibiting intensified separation anxiety. The world feels a bit scarier, and the familiar comfort of a caregiver becomes a sanctuary.

Sleep Disturbances

Nightmares, night terrors, or general restlessness during sleep can be outward expressions of the inner turmoil and anxiety that trauma induces.

Developmental Regression

Don’t be alarmed if you notice your child regressing to earlier developmental stages. This can manifest as reverted speech patterns or a sudden need for diapers after being potty trained, for example.

Here’s How Parents and Carers Can Support Trauma-Affected Young Ones

Unfortunately, healing a traumatized child requires patience, understanding, and the right approaches. Here are some tailored steps to provide the nurturing environment that babies and toddlers need to cope and heal:

Offer Comfort and Security

Being a consistent presence in the child’s life can instill a sense of security. Offer comfort through physical affection, reassuring words, and maintaining routines to create a stable environment.

Promote Expression

Even the youngest children can express their feelings. Pay attention to their non-verbal cues and encourage expression through play, drawing, or storytelling, adapting to their developmental stage.

Seek Professional Support

There’s no map that perfectly charts the course of healing from trauma. Don’t hesitate to seek professional help to tailor your approach to your child’s unique needs and reactions.


Remember, your well-being is integral to your child’s recovery. Seeking support and care for yourself isn’t a luxury but a necessity, ensuring you are equipped, both emotionally and physically, to support your child.

Recognizing When It’s Time for Professional Intervention

The key takeaway here is that helping a young child recover from trauma is a roller coaster ride. In this, a parent’s love and care are essential, but there are times when professional help is required to facilitate healing. Recognizing these moments is crucial. Here are some signs that indicate it’s time to seek additional support:

  • Intensified Symptoms: When behavioral and emotional responses to trauma escalate or persist for an extended period, it signals a need for professional intervention.
  • Developmental Concerns: If developmental delays or regressions become prominent and concerning, expert assistance can identify and address underlying issues.
  • Parental Support: When the weight of supporting a trauma-affected child begins to overwhelm a parent or caregiver, seeking professional help is not just beneficial but essential for both the child’s and adult’s well-being.
  • Specific Trauma Types: Certain types of trauma, especially those involving abuse or severe neglect, often require specialized therapeutic approaches to address complex emotional and psychological impacts.

A New Dawn Awaits

At the end of the day, healing a child who’s experienced adversity early in life is never easy. However, if trauma has touched your child’s life, know that support awaits in Seattle. We offer a blend of expertise and compassion, ready to guide you through this challenging chapter. So, remember, you’re not alone! Together, we can walk the path to healing and strength, each step marked by collective resilience and hope. Reach out to us, and let’s take this journey together.


Cooper House
Perinatal Support Washington
Navos Mental Health Solutions

FAQs: Trauma and Children

How does trauma impact infants and toddlers?
Infants and toddlers are especially vulnerable to the effects of trauma. It can manifest in various behavioral and emotional changes. You might notice increased irritability, difficulty in sleeping, or developmental regressions. The child's sense of security can be shaken, leading to heightened anxiety and clinginess. This delicate age is formative, and traumatic experiences can leave an imprint on the child’s developing brain, influencing emotional responses and behaviors. It is essential to observe, understand, and address these impacts with sensitivity and support to mitigate long-term effects.
Can trauma as a baby affect you later in life?
Experiencing trauma at an infant stage doesn't always translate into explicit memories, but its effects can echo into later life. Emotional, behavioral, and psychological patterns can be influenced by these early experiences. Individuals might face challenges in emotional regulation, relationships, and coping with stress. However, the human spirit is resilient. With appropriate care, support, and sometimes professional intervention, those affected can navigate these challenges, transforming early adversities into foundations of strength and resilience in adulthood.
At what age do babies remember trauma?
Infants and toddlers typically don’t retain conscious, explicit memories of traumatic events due to a phenomenon called "infantile amnesia." However, while narrative recall might be absent, the body and subconscious mind often “remember” the emotional and physiological responses associated with trauma. These imprinted experiences can influence emotional and behavioral patterns as the child grows. Recognizing and addressing these imprints early can be pivotal in shaping a positive developmental trajectory despite early adversities.
What are signs of childhood trauma?
Childhood trauma can manifest through various signs, each reflecting the child’s internal struggle to process and cope with their experiences. Behavioral changes, including withdrawal or aggression, heightened anxiety, or difficulties in concentration, can be telltale signs. Physiological responses such as changes in sleep patterns and appetite, or developmental regressions, are also common. Each child’s response to trauma is unique. Observing, understanding, and responding to these signs with empathy, care, and when necessary, professional support, is key to facilitating healing and recovery.
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