Topical Review: Medical Trauma during Early Childhood

Alexandra C. De Young, Rebecca S. Paterson, Erin A. Brown, Marthe R. Egberts, Robyne M. Le Brocque, Justin A. Kenardy, Markus A. Landolt, Meghan L. Marsac, Eva Alisic, Ann Christin Haag

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Objective Early childhood is a high-risk period for exposure to traumatic medical events due to injury/illness. It is also one of the most important and vulnerable periods due to rapid development in neurobiological systems, attachment relationships, cognitive and linguistic capacities, and emotion regulation. The aim of this topical review is to evaluate empirical literature on the psychological impact of medical trauma during early childhood (0-6 years) to inform models of clinical care for assessing, preventing, and treating traumatic stress following injury/illness. Methods Topical review of empirical and theoretical literature on pediatric medical traumatic stress (PMTS) during early childhood. Results There are important developmental factors that influence how infants and young children perceive and respond to medical events. The emerging literature indicates that up to 30% of young children experience PMTS within the first month of an acute illness/ injury and between 3% and 10% develop posttraumatic stress disorder. However, significant knowledge gaps remain in our understanding of psychological outcomes for infants and young children, identification of risk-factors and availability of evidence-based interventions for medical trauma following illness. Conclusions This topical review on medical trauma during early childhood provides: (a) definitions of key medical trauma terminology, (b) discussion of important developmental considerations, (c) summary of the empirical literature on psychological outcomes, risk factors, and interventions, (d) introduction to a stepped-model-of-care framework to guide clinical practice, and (e) summary of limitations and directions for future research.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)739-746
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Pediatric Psychology
Issue number7
StatePublished - Aug 1 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by an Australian Rotary Health Grant.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Author(s). Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society of Pediatric Psychology.


  • Infants
  • accidents
  • developmental considerations
  • early childhood
  • illness
  • injuries
  • intervention
  • medical trauma
  • models of care
  • pediatric medical traumatic stress
  • posttraumatic stress disorder
  • preschoolers
  • prevention
  • risk factors
  • screening
  • toddlers
  • young children

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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