22 Hidden Signs of Trauma in Kids

When it comes to protecting kids, we’d like to think we would recognize the signs of trauma or abuse and get children the help they need. But too often, these “signs” of childhood trauma are hidden, and children are left struggling in silence with nowhere to turn. So what are these hidden signs?

Maybe the “shy” child isn’t actually shy, but is petrified of speaking up because doing so at home results in verbal or physical abuse. Maybe the “aggressive” child who is hard to discipline doesn’t know how to cope with the sudden loss of a loved one, so they “act out.” Maybe the child who has a lot of stomach problems is experiencing anxiety from the trauma of seeing his or her parents go through an ugly divorce.

It’s important we talk about some of these “hidden” signs of childhood trauma so we can get vulnerable children the help they need. We wanted to know what “hidden” signs of childhood trauma often get missed, so we turned to our Mighty community to share one thing they experienced themselves.

Here’s what they had to say:

  1. I was shy and soft-spoken. If I could hide behind someone I would, or I would barely whisper my answer when others asked me a question. When people would tell me to speak up, I’d jump and first say, ‘I’m sorry’ before I responded. I’d walk away with tears in my eyes if they got upset at me.” — Tatauq M.
  2. “Stomach problems. I’d eat two bites of food and be sick. Stomach issues all the time. People got upset because they thought I just didn’t want to eat. Parents had me going to doctors. Truth is I was just a nervous wreck from my environment.” — Andrea S.
  3. I was a people-pleaser, especially with adults. I wanted some kind of recognition, to feel like I was protected.” — Lindsay G.
  4. “Laughing at inappropriate times to lighten the mood, flinching at the smallest movement made towards me, and getting really quiet whenever I get in a fight with someone or someone is mad/yelling at me.” — Kala H.
  5. “I got quiet. Everyone labeled me as the ‘shy girl,’ but I wasn’t shy. I was scared. I remember before, I’d get in trouble in school for talking too much and I’d run around the whole neighborhood every day seeing which friends could come out and play. When I got quiet, I didn’t go out anymore. I stayed in my bedroom alone writing and listening to the radio. I don’t know if anyone noticed or if they just didn’t say anything.” — Rebecca R.
  6. “[I got] sick a lot and when I’m in bad times, it still happens. When I was younger, probably around kindergarten, I was always sick with ear aches, stomachaches all kinds of stuff.” — Harlie W.
  7. “Even now I’m very jumpy when people touch me. I can be in a completely safe environment and totally relaxed and as soon as someone touches me I flinch, jump or withdraw. It’s not fair to those closest to me who think they’ve done something wrong.” — Sam W.
  8. “I was a very aggressive child post my father’s death. I didn’t properly address any childhood grief (I was in the room during his final hours, I was 7) so I acted out and hit people frequently. One memorable occasion was in fifth grade, after getting upset, I choked a girl using her lanyard. It was not a good time for anyone involved.” — Danielle N.
  9. “I had a hard time listening to direction or remembering the task at hand because of my dissociation. My parents saw it as rebellion. Then it turned into rebellion because I was fighting for myself in the wrong way. I’m just now addressing dissociation at age 22. And finally a lot of things are making sense. I feel like it’s an issue not talked about because it’s embarrassing and hard to tell you’re even doing it sometimes.” — Karlee A.
  10. “I would think through answers to questions or replies and carefully say them under my breath before saying them out loud to make sure they couldn’t be misinterpreted or I wasn’t saying the wrong thing that could get me in trouble or make someone angry. I did that regularly until I was about 8 years old and learned to just do it all in my head instead.” — Vanessa M.
  11. “I had quite a lot of problems in school, I struggled to understand the work I was being given and the teacher just thought I was ‘dumb.’ In fifth grade, our teacher got upset with the class and was raising his voice and was a bit angry. Because of my childhood trauma, I got scared and pissed my pants. I remember my fifth grade teacher being very shocked that a 9-year-old girl had pissed her pants.” — Chook C.
  12. “I could not be around males. [With] male teachers I got panic attacks. Male doctors I straight refused. I was scared really easily by someone coming up from behind me. Or in general. I couldn’t play ‘tag’ or ‘cops and robbers.’ Or anything where one person was ‘it’ and chasing was involved.” — Skylar R.
  13. I couldn’t make eye contact, and my mother always got angry with me about it. She wasn’t the most loving of mothers, so I was quite scared to tell her about what was happening, outside of the threats made to me if I did tell. Her behavior toward me didn’t help matters any. I wasn’t good enough for her. So not only do I have a strong lack of trust in men, I also have a lot of self-doubt.” — Veronica S.
  14. “I became a perfectionist and overachiever in order to feel like I mattered. I tried to excel in everything I did to try and get my parents attention and reassurance. Additionally, I had severe stomach issues that often resulted in vomiting profusely and frequent urination as a child.” — Lindsay R.
  15. “I lied a lot. Almost everything out of my mouth was a lie for many reasons, but mostly because I was afraid of the harsh abuse from my father, so I lied.” — Nicole P.
  16. “The abuse turned me from a sensitive child into an angry, defensive teenager. My anger was my armor. It was how I survived his abuse every day for years.” — Jocelyn B.
  17. “People don’t understand why I cling to certain people. Sometimes I’ll get attached to people and until they realize I was abused as a child, they don’t understand why I cling to people the way I do.” — Emily R.
  18. “Not making eye contact with adults in public. My mom told me I always looked pathetically sad and she didn’t want anyone to see that.” — Shelley A.
  19. “Picking scabs, clawing skin, chewing my fingernails to the point that I was biting nails off down to the quick… Potty problems past the age it made sense.” — Imogen G.
  20. My grades dropped and I began to put myself in risky situations by hanging out with and dating the wrong people.” — Danielle G.
  21. “I never had any friends, I always was alone, never spoke, never in consideration for anything. Ninety percent of the time, I was invisible.” — Sarah O.
  22. “Not speaking or joining in a conversation unless I’m asked to. I’m always afraid that if I interrupt someone I’ll get in trouble or yelled at.” — Shayna K.

If you’ve experienced childhood trauma, you’re not alone. Check out the below stories if you are struggling to heal and don’t know where to start. 

Unsplash photo via Gift Habeshaw

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