What is the Most Common Trauma in Childhood?

Amy Pfeffer

March 29, 2023

What is the Most Common Trauma in Childhood

Childhood trauma is a term used to describe any traumatic event that affects a child or young adult. Traumatic experiences can include physical or emotional abuse, neglect, bullying, witnessing violence, and even natural disasters.

Research shows that these traumatic events can linger into adulthood and have lifelong consequences on health and well-being. These effects can be particularly significant for those who don’t receive treatment for their trauma.


Neglect is a type of abuse that occurs when a parent or caregiver fails to meet a child’s basic needs. These may include food, clothing, shelter, or supervision.

Research shows that children who are neglected early in life have more serious long-term health and developmental problems than other kids in similar situations. They are at greater risk of developing psychiatric disorders, substance use and addiction, and emotional challenges later in life.

Physical neglect, which involves failure to provide a child with food, clothing, shelter and parental supervision, is the most common form of neglect. Other forms of neglect may be less obvious, such as medical neglect, which could involve a refusal to provide vaccinations.

Emotional neglect, which may look like ignoring a child, withholding affection and outward displays of love, constantly teasing, corrupting a child through inappropriate materials or deceiving them/acting untrustworthy, is a particularly serious type of abuse that can result in severe alterations in the brain. It also can lead to behavioral and learning difficulties, and a lack of self-esteem and trust.

Physical Abuse

One of the most common forms of childhood trauma is physical abuse. It can take the form of hitting, kicking, shaking, throwing, choking, poisoning, burning or scalding, drowning, or other types of physical harm.

Children who are physically abused have low self-esteem, problems with eating and sleeping, and difficulty concentrating on schoolwork. They may also feel very isolated and distrust others.

In addition to physical injuries, abusers often use other methods to control their victims. They might threaten to hurt the child if they tell others.

Medical professionals can detect signs of physical abuse and treat the child. They can also recommend a therapist to help with healing.

Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse includes a range of intrusive behaviors, from unwanted sexual touching to forcing oral sex or rape. It can also include voyeurism, pornography and other forms of viewing of a person’s sexual behavior.

People who sexually abuse others can be anyone, from strangers to friends and family members. They usually target children because they are vulnerable, trusting or powerful.

Survivors of sexual abuse often have trouble talking about their experiences and may avoid it until they are adults. They may have symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, such as flashbacks and insomnia.

Survivors have reported that they feel powerless over their traumatic experiences and struggle with guilt, anger and anxiety. Therapy and coping skills help them process their feelings. They may also seek support from loved ones or a mental health professional.

Witnessing Violence

In recent years, witnessing violence has been identified as one of the most common childhood traumas. It can happen in a number of ways, including through a child being the victim of a physical attack or being harmed by someone who is trying to control them.

Children who witness abuse in the home, including physical, sexual and verbal violence, are at a high risk of developing emotional and behavioral problems as adults. These problems can range from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and attachment disorders to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

It can also come from a child’s exposure to a dangerous situation such as a natural disaster, a car crash or a war zone. These are often called “adverse childhood experiences” or ACEs and can lead to a lifelong struggle with mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety, and physical illnesses like heart disease, diabetes, cancer and obesity.