The Impact of Early Childhood Trauma on Adopted Girls

Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), including neglect, abuse, and sexual assault, can cause trauma responses to surface later in life. According to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), “Traumatic experiences can profoundly affect development and functioning across the lifespan, including how children experience relationships and display mental health symptoms.”

You can protect your adopted daughter and lower her risk of developing future issues that stem from trauma. Ensure she has access to therapy and other treatments she needs to address trauma and heal. Havenwood Academy offers comprehensive treatment programs for adopted girls who experience mental health problems related to early childhood trauma.

Adopted Teenagers and Past Trauma

Studies show that most children adopted as adolescents or teenagers have a higher risk of developing attachment, behavioral, and mental health disorders due to past traumas. Common ACEs that can cause trauma-related disorders include witnessing or experiencing abuse, assault, or neglect. You can provide your adopted teen with recovery resources and give her the tools she needs to heal from these experiences.

A few of the most common ACEs include:

  • Sexual violence
  • Emotional or physical neglect
  • Verbal abuse
  • Physical abuse
  • Psychological abuse
  • Severe illness or injury due to caregiver neglect or violence
  • Sexual exploitation
  • Witnessing substance misuse

Your adopted daughter may display maladaptive behaviors that helped her cope with the effects of trauma she experienced during early childhood. According to Frontiers in Psychiatry, “Adverse pre-adoption experiences increase the risk of post-adoption psychosocial maladjustment, especially with externalizing problems.” Untreated past traumas will continue to affect your adopted daughter until she receives treatment to help her reprocess the events. Children with reactive attachment disorder (RAD) are more likely to develop mental health issues related to early trauma.

Early Childhood Trauma Can Affect Your Adopted Teen’s Development

Adverse childhood experiences that result in long-term trauma often reoccur, compounding the stressors. Adopted teenagers may have lived through multiple or ongoing traumatic events that continue to affect their thoughts and actions. Trauma can significantly affect a child’s mental development, mental health, and social interactions. Facilities like Havenwood Academy can provide your adopted daughter with the tools she needs to heal from trauma.

Brain Development and Trauma

According to the HHS, “Children who experienced severe neglect early in life . . . often have decreased electrical activity in their brains, decreased brain metabolism, and poorer connections between areas of the brain that are key to integrating complex information.” Malnutrition and other forms of neglectful abuse can also affect the brain’s development and function. Many children who grew up in these situations may continue to show symptoms and struggle with emotional and cognitive development even years after being removed from them.

Trauma profoundly affects the mental health of children and adolescents because it interferes with normal development. Areas of the brain most affected by early childhood trauma include:

  • Hippocampus
  • Corpus callosum
  • Prefrontal cortex
  • Amygdala
  • Cerebellum

Social Interactions and Peer Relationships

Making and maintaining social relationships can feel overwhelming for children who have a history of trauma. Some children may need their adoptive parents to model healthy social boundaries and relationships to show them how to interact with others appropriately. Attachment disorders like RAD can also affect how your adopted child interacts with peers. Treatment and therapy can give her the tools she needs to build solid and healthy relationships.

How to Help Your Adopted Daughter Cope With Symptoms of Trauma

You can help your adopted daughter cope with her trauma symptoms by ensuring she has access to educational resources and professional therapy. Additionally, you should model healthy interpersonal skills and provide a compassionate and nurturing environment where your child feels safe and protected.

You can support your daughter by doing the following:

  • Actively listen to her concerns, beliefs, and feelings
  • Encourage her to communicate her needs and worries openly
  • Talk about your own mental health and allow her to see how talking can provide emotional relief
  • Validate healthy thoughts and feelings about the trauma
  • Be aware of how language choices in the home can trigger or affect trauma recovery
  • Do not force her to participate in physical expressions of affection like hugging

The Importance of a Warm and Nurturing Home Environment

Adopted children might have difficulty establishing deep connections with their adoptive parents. You can help your adopted daughter cope with early childhood traumas by providing a warm and nurturing home environment. If your daughter feels comfortable, she will be more likely to confide in you, enhancing the effectiveness of therapy and treatment.

Providing your daughter with a safe living space and modeling healthy personal boundaries does the following:

  • Encourages self-expression
  • Provides a blueprint for positive social boundaries
  • Ensures she feels safe and loved
  • Helps her relearn to trust parental figures and peers
  • Protects her against retraumatization

Depending on the severity of symptoms and how much physiological damage was caused by the trauma, your child may require long-term therapy and treatment to fully recover and heal. In addition to receiving personalized treatment from a professional, a loving, safe environment to come home to increases the effectiveness of those treatments and can speed up the recovery process.

If left untreated, early childhood trauma and adverse childhood experiences can affect adopted children for years. You can help your adopted daughter learn healthy coping skills and reprocess trauma. Connect her with treatment services that promote healing and positivity. Havenwood Academy provides evidence-based treatment programs for adopted adolescents and teens. We help families affected by behavioral or mental health issues caused by early childhood trauma. Therapy and other treatments can empower your adopted teenager and allow her to grow. During treatment, she can explore her identity and heal from past trauma. Your daughter can get the help she needs to make positive mental health and behavioral changes at Havenwood Academy. Learn more by calling us at (435) 586-2500.


Think Havenwood Might Be For You?

We encourage any visitors considering placing their daughter in treatment to fill out our online assessment as soon as possible. This two minute form will give our admissions team all the information needed to determine if your daughter is a good fit for our program.