Trusted Source Blog


Identifying the Traumatized Child

By Angela Frank

Special to Washington Family Engagement Trust

 When I was a child, I had a series of events that caused turmoil and trauma in my life. Through years of counseling and collecting records, I have been able to work through that trauma and now try to help others do the same. I have achieved a Master’s Degree in Education and a license in mental health counseling. As a professional, and someone with a history of trauma, I am able to educate others about signs that a child might be struggling more than with the usual growing pains. As I look back on my history and look through papers documenting what others saw in me, there are a few signs that clearly indicate family chaos or potential abuse.

When I was young, I alternated between living with my mother, father, aunt and uncle, and other families in a series of 7 moves. There were times I lived separately from my sisters which was very hard on all three of us. I tried to show signs that I needed help but I felt no one was listening. I felt too afraid to tell anyone what was going on. Sometimes I became so depressed I really didn’t think anyone cared. 

The signs I was exhibiting consisted of anger, disobedience, sudden and seemingly unexplained mood changes, failing grades, refusal to go to school (“and you can’t make me”), social isolation, not caring if I had friends or not, and feeling frequently sick.  There was no physical indicator that I was actually sick and no symptoms of any certain ailment, but I always had a stomach ache. I now call this anxiety.

At one point, I felt so sick that I started throwing up every morning, ended up not being able to eat and losing 20 pounds within four months. I had a counselor, but I was afraid to tell her anything; I didn’t trust anyone because I was afraid that whatever I said would get back to whoever I was living with.

You don’t have to be a professional to help a traumatized child. There are plenty of ways outside of therapy that a person can bring comfort to a child. Even though I know I would not have opened up automatically to someone if they asked me what was wrong but in time I know, I would have left breadcrumbs to follow. Some children may be so grateful for the attention that they might just tell you everything in desperation. When you want to let a child know you are concerned about them, don’t necessarily ask them what’s wrong, just let them know that you know something is wrong and you want to help.

For the more cautious child, it’s best to get to know the child and gauge whether he/she feels comfortable with you. It might be a good idea to ask the child if they feel safe at home or wherever they are living. Also, if they look like they are losing weight, maybe find a way to get them to eat in a group with other children so that they don’t feel isolated. Make sure the group is accepting and nurturing if this is a method you choose to use.

If grades are failing, offer to help with homework or find an after-school program. Spending more time outside the home may relieve some of the child’s stress. If there no after-school program available as I know is an issue with some rural areas, find out how to start one.

In dysfunctional families, children are not allowed to express their boundaries which leads to not being able to say “no” later in life. This makes adolescents more susceptible to peer pressure. If the child says no about hugging for instance, offer an alternative like a high five or hand shake. Let them know it is okay to say no when they are uncomfortable. These are just a few of the ways for caring adults to support a child with a history of trauma. A therapist doesn’t have to be the only support in a child’s life.


Learn about Mental Health First Aid:

Information on Emotional CPR:

The Mockingbird Society advocates for children who are separated from their parents due to abuse or neglect whether they are in foster care or living with others:

National Coalition for the Homeless:

National Alliance on Mental Illness:

Angela Frank is a graduate of the Parent Leadership Training Institute and a Licensed Mental Health Counselor.  She advocates for underrepresented, highly mobile children using her own personal experiences to influence change in policy and bring awareness to other professionals. Her blog is:









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