Early Life Trauma Exposure and Stress Sensitivity in Young Children

J Pediatr Psychol. Jan-Feb 2013;38(1):94-103. doi: 10.1093/jpepsy/jss101. Epub 2012 Sep 23.

Abstract

Objective: The current study replicates and extends work with adults that highlights the relationship between trauma exposure and distress in response to subsequent, nontraumatic life stressors.

Methods: The sample included 213 2-4-year-old children in which 64.3% had a history of potential trauma exposure. Children were categorized into 4 groups based on trauma history and current life stress.

Results: In a multivariate analysis of variance, trauma-exposed children with current life stressors had elevated internalizing and externalizing problems compared with trauma-exposed children without current stress and nontrauma-exposed children with and without current stressors. The trauma-exposed groups with or without current stressors did not differ on posttraumatic stress disorder symptom severity. Accounting for number of traumatic events did not change these results.

Conclusions: These findings suggest that early life trauma exposure may sensitize young children and place them at risk for internalizing or externalizing problems when exposed to subsequent, nontraumatic life stressors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Life Change Events*
  • Male
  • Risk Factors
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / diagnosis*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology*