sleeping child_hospital admission_medical procedure

What counts in risk for traumatic stress is NOT the objective severity of the child's illness or injury, but how it is experienced by the child or parent (Are they feeling scared or alone? Do they think they might die?).

Traumatic medical experiences are rarely a single event. All along the continuum of care, children and families in medical settings can experience multiple traumatic experiences (and things that will trigger feelings or remind them of those experiences). And traumatic stress doesn’t necessarily end with the conclusion of successful medical treatment.

Factors that trigger traumatic stress in medical settings include:

  • A specific scary or shocking event (injury / initial diagnosis)
  • Pain or painful medical treatment
  • Treatment setbacks
  • Physical limitations or impairment
  • Ongoing uncertainty about prognosis
  • The medical environment (hospital sights / sounds, etc.)
  • Parental helplessness at seeing their children in pain, distressed, hooked up to medical equipment, etc.
  • Separation from parents
  • Exposure to distress, pain, or death of others (e.g., other patients)
  • Exposure to reminders of past traumatic medical experiences
  • Sense of life threat (regardless of objective prognosis)

What’s Traumatic?

Research with ill and injured children and families has also shown that children and parents may find different aspects of the experience traumatic.