Family therapist Swanie Khoo loves to help kids make sense of challenges and teach them how to overcome adversity.


Junior is bound to encounter traumatic events you may not be able to shield him from. The emotional turmoil left on a child who has to deal with sexual, verbal or physical abuse and even the death of loved ones may leave an indelible mark on your child.

In fact, traumatic experiences on kids as young as ages 2 to 4 can change them, even though their brains aren’t fully developed yet. Focus on the Family’s marriage and family counsellor, Swanie Khoo, notes that trauma symptoms will show up in your child’s behaviour years later.

If you think that your child will forget something that happened early on in their lives, think again. Khoo notes, “[These experiences can] shape how they’re coping with life challenges, relationships and the sense of who they are [as a person].”

So, she helps her adult clients work through how their early childhood experiences have shaped them today, “Usually, when [the experience] troubles an individual significantly, they can recall and work through these memories.”

“Children experience traumatic stress when they’re exposed to events or situations that overwhelm their ability to cope.”

SmartParents sits down with Khoo to learn more about the devastating effects of severe stress on children…

What does the term trauma actually mean?

Children experience traumatic stress when they’re exposed to events or situations that overwhelm their ability to cope. How the child experiences traumatic events and how they express their distress depends largely on the child’s age and development.

What are some common causes of childhood trauma?

There are many different causes of trauma. These can range from sexual abuse or rape, physical, verbal or emotional abuse, to natural disasters like floods and earthquakes and serious accidents. They can also suffer a traumatic loss like a sudden or violent death of a loved one or have parents with a mental illness, abuse substances or are incarcerated.

A kid may be facing different types of trauma such as:

* Acute trauma A single event that lasts for a short time including being in a bad accident.

* Chronic trauma Experiencing multiple traumatic events over a long period of time, which causes its effects to build over time. This includes recurrent sexual abuse or domestic violence in the home.

* Complex trauma Refers to some kind of chronic trauma caused by the child’s caregivers. Examples include sexual abuse by the father or severe neglect by locking a child in a closet.