Children and Burn Trauma

Children Coping with Burn Injury Trauma

Trauma describes the impact of an event or a series of events during which a child feels helpless and pushed beyond their ability to cope.  A range of different events might be traumatic to a child, including accidents, injuries, serious illness, neglect or abuse. Burn injuries can cause significant trauma to the child, their family and carers.

How might children react to a burn injury?

All children respond to a burn injury differently, and an incident that is traumatic for one child is not necessarily traumatic to another. A child’s response might be influenced by factors that are specific to:

  • the child (e.g. age and developmental stage, personality traits and past experiences)
  • the family (e.g. the quality of the child’s relationship with their parents or carers, the degree to which the family understand the effects of the burn injury trauma, the family’s ability to support the child after the burn injury and whether the family has also been traumatised)
  • the community (e.g. the degree to which children and families have access to practical and emotional support services, and their level of engagement with support services)
  • the event (e.g. whether the burn injury was a one- off or isolated event or occurred in the context of other traumatic events, whether the child was separated from significant adults during the event, and whether the life of the child or a loved one was threatened during the event).

Do children react immediately to a burn injury?

Some children might react immediately after a burn injury, displaying behaviours such as frequent crying and clinginess, or experiencing nightmares. Others might not have a reaction, or their reaction might be delayed. The majority of children who experience a burn injury will return to normal functioning within a few weeks without professional support, although they can still benefit from additional adult support during this period. For others, especially those who experience a major burn, the signs and effects can linger. Ensuring the child is safe and providing ongoing support is crucial.

What are the signs that a child might be affected emotionally by a burn injury?


  • frequently talking about the burn injury, or a reluctance to talk about it
  • re-enacting or drawing aspects of the burn injury
  • crying or feeling sad
  • clinginess or separation issues
  • going backwards in skills related to speech or toileting
  • grumpiness, tantrums or misbehaving
  • complaints of physical illness like headaches and stomach aches
  • difficulties in relationships with peers (similarly aged friends) or adults
  • forgetfulness or problems with concentration
  • problems being organised
  • sleep problems such as nightmares, difficulty getting to sleep or difficulty waking up in the morning.

Burn injury trauma can impact children’s memory and learning. It can also be associated with problems in children’s relationships with peers and significant adults. Sometimes traumatic experiences such as a burn injury can contribute to difficult behaviour, so it is important for everyone to look at the factors influencing a change in behaviour of the child.

Can burn injuries affect the child emotionally long-term?

As children who have experienced trauma such as a burn injury move into adolescence, they are at an increased risk of developing further emotional and health problems, and becoming isolated from their peers.

What can you do to help support children who have experienced burn injury trauma?

These strategies can be used to support children who have experienced burn injury trauma.

  • Provide safety, security and support for children through a predictable environment, positive relationships with adults, and consistent routines
  • Ensure that the child is aware that they can talk about their burn if and when they feel comfortable to do so.
  • Promote development of social and emotional skill. Children who have experienced burn injury trauma may also have problems managing difficult emotions, getting along with others, making decisions, and considering others’ feelings
  • Recognise the signs of mental health difficulties and the impact that trauma can have on a child’s social and emotional well-being
  • Establish links with community agencies or trauma experts who can support children and families.

Where can I get help from?

Contact your Burn team or your local doctor to discuss any issues the child might be experiencing and for referral to counselling support.

Peer support groups can be a great place for older children to chat with other kids who have gone through the same experience.


For more information    

The Australian Child and Adolescent Trauma, Loss and Grief Network (ACATLGN)

Resources for families and professionals working with young people affected by trauma and a range of related issues.


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