Helping Children Who Have Been Traumatized by War

Larry Beall, Ph.D., Director


Trauma for children comes from many sources, including abuses and accidents, assaults and experiencing or witnessing violence such as in war.  Trauma can be primary or secondary.  Primary trauma is when the traumatic event happens to the child personally, like if he (or she is implied) was in an accident.  Secondary trauma is when the traumatic event happens to someone else, especially if the child has an attachment to that person.  Sometimes secondary trauma can be as harmful as primary trauma.


A symptom is something you can see or feel that tells you something may not be right with a person.  It is the body’s way of telling us something needs to be taken care of.

There are three different kinds of symptoms:

1. Symptoms that intrude or interrupt daily events;

2. Symptoms that make us avoid certain places, people or things; and

3. Anxious Symptoms.

The important thing to remember is that these symptoms are a normal reaction to an abnormal situation!


1. Intruding Symptoms: Nightmares, Images of the traumatic event that invade the mind, Reliving the event, Seeing things or triggers that remind you of the bad thing that happened and being affected by it.

2. Avoiding Symptoms: Losing interests, Avoiding thoughts, people and situations, Feeling separate from people, Feeling numb.

3. Anxious symptoms: Feeling jumpy and on edge, Problems sleeping, Tense muscles, Hard to concentrate, Easily angered, Nervous about people/places



Remember, the key is to help the child face the trauma in a safe environment rather than bury it and keep it hidden.  Buried feelings are still alive and cause more problems.  Get feelings out about what happened in the way that works best for the child.  For one child it may be drawing, for another telling a story, and yet another acting it out like in a play.  As the trauma pain is released, then the child needs to do things that give him  a sense of control or mastery, something they like to do, that they are good at, or something they would like to learn to do that would give them more confidence.  Help the child survivor to believe in himself, that him overcoming his pain, is important to the future of his country and his people.