J Pediatric Psychology – Trauma Exposure Associated with Stress Sensitivity in Young Children

A new article published in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology by Grasso, Ford, and Briggs-Gowan examined trauma exposure, current life stress, and internalizing and externalizing behavior problems in 213 children ages 2- to 4-years-old. The authors categorized the children into four groups based on trauma exposure and current life stress and conducted a multivariate analysis of variance to identify potential group differences in internalizing and externalizing problems. Results indicated that trauma-exposed children whose mothers reported their children were experiencing current life stress had elevated internalizing and externalizing behavior problems relative to trauma-exposed children who were not currently experiencing life stress and non-trauma-exposed children with and without current life stress. Interestingly, the trauma-exposed children with or without current life stress did not differ on parent-reported posttraumatic stress symptoms. The authors interpret these findings as suggesting that trauma exposure at a young age may sensitize young children to stress, increasing risk for internalizing and externalizing behavior problems in the context of subsequent, non traumatic life stress.

We invite you to comment on where this line of research should go and/or whether your work with young children and families is consistent with a stress sensitization approach.