Childhood Trauma: More than Sticks and Stones

childhood trauma


Childhood trauma can have a profound and long-lasting impact on children’s mental and emotional well-being. This blog explores how parents can, intentionally or unintentionally, inflict it upon their children. Names have been changed to protect identity.


Abdul Rahman is a 32 year old IT professional. He thinks he’s pretty good at what he does. He’s successful as per society’s standards. But secretly, Abdul Rahman hides his secret shame, something he doesn’t tell people: he is severely claustrophobic. When he was 7 years old, his dad locked him in the storeroom for half an hour for being naughty. For Abdul Rahman, it was an eternity spent in near darkness, with stale air. He believes that his father may not have had evil intentions, other than teaching his son a lesson, but it scarred him for life. What Abdul Rahman experienced is childhood trauma. The effects, as you can see, are long-term.


What is Childhood Trauma

National Institute of Mental Health (US), defines childhood trauma as:   “The experience of an event by a child that is emotionally painful or distressful, which often results in lasting mental and physical effects.”


These experiences may include physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, neglect, or other forms of violence and adverse experiences that occur in childhood. It may be unintentional (such as the death of a family member or friend in a traffic accident) or done on purpose (such as physical or emotional abuse by a parent). Adverse childhood experiences may include turbulent relations between parents (like fighting or divorce) and witnessed by children.


Research has shown that anyone can be a victim of childhood trauma. It is not restricted to social class or background.


How Parents Inflict Trauma on Their Children

Some parents are downright abusive. There is no other way around it. An example can be found in Ameera’s tale. But sometimes, parents are not aware of the damage that they are inflicting. Many times, South Asian parents think that punishing their children will encourage their children to perform better at school or comply with their wishes. Little do they know how damaging their actions are.


Types of Childhood Trauma (by Parents)

Physical abuse: physical force or violence to harm a child. It includes hitting, slapping, kicking, or other forms of physical harm.


Emotional abuse: verbal and nonverbal tactics to harm a child. It affects a child’s confidence, self-esteem and emotional well-being. It includes shouting, belittling, punishing children (as in Abdul Rahman’s case) and even threatening to punish children as well as other forms of psychological harm.


Sexual abuse: any sexual activity between an adult and a child. It includes touching inappropriately, and sexual intercourse among others.


Neglect: failure of a parent to fulfill basic needs of a child such as food, shelter, and medical care. It may also include emotional neglect, such as failing to provide love and support.


parents hurt children when they


What Happens When Parents Lock their Children in Storerooms

Threatening to punish children or actually going through with it (as in Abdul Rahman’s story) is emotional abuse. This can lead to childhood trauma. Some of the effects on children may include fear, anxiety, and even helplessness as they cannot protect themselves from harm and have control of their lives.


Parents who threaten their children with punishments (and then follow through) are creating a sense of insecurity and fear in their children. Especially damaging is fear. It may be debilitating, like Abdul Rahman’s claustrophobia.



Children often react to trauma in different ways. But as per APA, some patterns have repeated themselves over and over. These include:

  • disinterest in normal activities
  • separation anxiety in young children
  • development of fears
  • reduced focus
  • disturbed sleep and nightmares
  • anger
  • decline in performance at school


A 2022 research shows that childhood trauma victims have low self-esteem, They may experience anxiety and depression. Some victims often deny their history of trauma, while others develop a false self-image. Victims may also may also become dependent on on alcohol and drugs to prevent their past traumatic experiences from impacting their life.


A 2018 US study found that children who had experienced trauma or stress would grow up to become parents of children with behavioural problems. A 2023 research in China, while validating the US study, also discovered that girls who experienced trauma or adversity went on to become mothers of children with poor physical and psychological health. So, childhood trauma isn’t just affecting one child. Its effects may be transmitted to the next generations.


The impact of parents’ actions are huge. They may also be life-long. Experiencing trauma may often make children feel that they are worthless. There may also be feelings of being unlovable. This directly affects self-esteem. Children may also struggle to trust people around them, which makes it difficult for them to develop healthy relationships in adulthood. A direct result of facing childhood trauma may be feelings of anxiety, depression and PTSD.


However, the important task is how to deal with trauma once it has been inflicted. Children and adults who experienced trauma in their childhood can seek therapy. This can help them unpack the burden they may be carrying as they learn to cope with it. Self-care is another helpful strategy. Regular exercise, doing activities one loves  and spending time with loved ones can also help people feel more grounded.



  • Madiha Noor says:

    A very thoughtful and informative article about a very grave reality.
    Many of us are a victim of childhood trauma despite of having the most wonderful and supportive parents. These practices for ‘correcting’ children unfortunately have moved on as a cultural legacy and still believed upon as the best way by even the most educated. We need well mannered, well behaved, and cultured children doing excellent in school and that makes manhandling, scolding and even physically hitting our own children justifiable . Regrettably , this also gives the opportunity to the parents to unknowingly vent out their own frustrations on their children, be it father’s who had had a bad day at work or going through financial instability or a meek mother who is too suppressed to be heard and thus that’s the only way to exert her unobstructed powers and authority. This only induces fear, instability, disbelief, low self esteem and rebellion. Children can’t handle and express such strong emotions of fear, agitation, rage and grief at such tender ages, resulting in serious long lasting effects on their personalities and their futures. It’s a vicious cycle for them from that point on.
    I hope we move forward and are truly enlightened to finally leave the age old ‘tried & trusted’ practices of ‘taming’ children and start taking them like small tender versions of ourselves., treating them the way we would have liked to be treated when we were their age.

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