A trauma informed approach to understanding and managing traumatised children and young people’s behaviours

Children and young people who have experienced harm may behave in unexpected ways. These behaviours are often the ‘tip of the iceberg’, while ‘underneath the surface’ are the emotional causes of the behaviours. Times of stress can trigger unexpected behaviours.

These fact sheets can help caregivers and others working with vulnerable children and young people to better understand the reasons underlying the behaviours that these children and young people often display.

  1. Building relationships (PDF, 2.0 MB)
  2. Shame (PDF, 2.0 MB)
  3. ‘I wonder’ statements (PDF, 2.0 MB)
  4. Use of consequences (PDF, 2.0 MB)
  5. Physical touch (PDF, 2.0 MB)
  6. Aggression (PDF, 2.0 MB)
  7. Problem sexual behaviour (PDF, 2.0 MB)
  8. Self-harm (PDF, 2.0 MB)
  9. Play and playfulness (PDF, 2.0 MB)
  10. Lying (PDF, 2.0 MB)
  11. Stealing (PDF, 2.0 MB)
  12. Hoarding and gorging (PDF, 2.0 MB)
  13. Fire lighting (PDF, 2.0 MB)
  14. Drugs and alcohol (PDF, 2.0 MB)
  15. Eye contact (PDF, 2.0 MB)
  16. Change (PDF, 2.0 MB)
  17. Bedtime routines (PDF, 2.0 MB)
  18. Social events (PDF, 2.0 MB)
  19. Transitions (PDF, 2.0 MB).

School-aged children

Children experience a range of emotions and express themselves in many different ways. It’s normal for school-aged children to show defiance or sometimes lose control of their emotions while their social and emotional skills are developing.

It’s important that you and other caregivers provide support while your child is developing and learning to manage their own emotions. Guiding your child and encouraging positive behaviours will help them learn appropriate ways to behave.

Source: Raising Children - school-aged children behaviour factsheet

Source: Raising Children - attention deficit hyperactivity disorder factsheet


As they develop, teenagers will experience a range of emotions and express themselves in many different ways. It’s important that you and other caregivers provide support while your teenager is maturing and gaining independence. Guiding your teenager, setting boundaries and forming positive relationships will help them through the challenges of adolescence.

Source: Raising Children - teenage behaviour factsheet

Night terrors

Night terrors are very dramatic awakenings that happen during the first few hours of sleep at night. They can be very distressing to watch, as your child may seem extremely disturbed and upset, and can be very hard to console them. Night terrors are not the same as nightmares.

About five per cent of children have night terrors. They usually happen in preschool and primary school-aged children. Night terrors will not have any long-term effects on your child, and your child will most likely grow out of them.

Source: Raising Children - night terrors factsheet


Nightmares are bad dreams that can wake children up and leave them feeling scared and upset. Be patient if your child has a nightmare. They might need you to reassure them that everything is OK. If your child has a lot of nightmares, think about what they're doing or seeing during the day that might trigger the nightmares.

Source: Raising Children - nightmares factsheet


Bedwetting is a common problem for many school-age children. The good news is that for many children the problem will resolve itself over time, or can be fixed through fairly simple treatment.

Source: Raising Children - bedwetting factsheet

Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) is committed to providing equity of access to services and attempts to minimise the barriers for children and young people with trauma to access appropriate services and has a range of resources available, including information for carers.

Life story work for children in care

Life story work records a life story of children and young people who have spent a lot of time living in care.

It records the child’s history and personal development, and can help them maintain a connection to their identity, their birth family and their origins.

What is life story work?

Life story work can take many forms including:

  • Scrapbooks
  • photo albums
  • treasure boxes
  • multimedia computer files
  • DVDs.

Creating Life Story Work

Life story work should include:

  • photographs that record things like:
    • milestones and achievements
    • pets
    • place of birth
    • holidays and outings
  • a copy of their birth certificate
  • their own artwork
  • letters from parents, siblings and carers
  • their family tree or genogram
  • information about their cultural background.

Carers should be proactive in taking photos of special events and encouraging the child to keep mementos of achievements and activities.

Life story work should be updated regularly.

Working With Children

To put together their life story work, children and young people in care can work with:

  • their carer
  • their caseworker
  • a volunteer at a DCP office
  • a trusted adult.

Caseworkers and carers should work together in preparing the child or young person for life story work.

The child or young person may have difficult feelings about things that may have happened to them - it is important to acknowledge those feelings and the child or young person should be encouraged to talk about them.

If sensitive issues arise, additional support should be sought.

Health and development

School-aged children

Child development in the first eight years happens through play and interactions with primary carers. Children start learning at birth. Their early experiences and interactions stimulate their brains and help them learn and develop. The skills your child develops in these early years build a foundation for learning throughout life.

Source: Raising Children - child development factsheet

Source: Raising Children - language development factsheet


The early teenage years see lots of changes – physical, emotional, cognitive and social. During this time, teenage bodies, emotions and identities change in different ways at different times.

Source: Raising Children - teenage development overview

Source: Raising Children - social and emotional development factsheet

Source: Raising Children - puberty factsheet

Source: Raising Children - gender identity factsheet

Encourage healthy eating habits by being a good food role model, having plenty of healthy foods at home, creating a healthy food environment, and sending healthy food messages.

Source: Raising Children - healthy eating habits for children factsheet

Source: Raising Children - healthy eating habits for teenagers factsheet

Physical activity keeps bodies and minds fit and healthy. Your child or teenager can be physically active by participating in a range of activities, like sports, dancing, bike riding, going on family walks, collecting shells, doing land care and exploring outdoor areas.

Source: Raising Children - physical activity for school-aged children factsheet

Source: Raising Children - physical activity for teenagers factsheet

A list of playgrounds around South Australia  is available through the South Australian Playground Finder.

School-aged children

Your child needs good mental health to develop in a healthy way socially, emotionally, mentally and physically. Good mental health in childhood also provides the foundation for better mental health and wellbeing later in life.

Source: Raising Children - good mental health in children factsheet

Source: Raising Children - anxiety in children factsheet


Adolescence can be a risky time for mental health problems. Teenagers go through many changes and challenges in a short period of time while their brains are still maturing. Your love, support and strong relationship with your teenager can have a have a positive effect on their mental health. It can even reduce the chances of your child experiencing mental health problems.

Source: Raising Children - teenage mental health factsheet

Source: Raising Children - what teenagers worry about factsheet