How Does Trauma Affect Children?
Untreated trauma hurts a child in all of the places where they should be thriving.
Trauma is a risk factor for nearly all behavioral health disorders. The impact of trauma on the developing child creates physical and emotional injuries that can be significant and long lasting. More than 60% of US children report at least one traumatic event before the age of 16.
When a child knows the world as a place of constant danger there are real effects that are physical, developmental and emotional. The impact is manifested in school, in their relationships with others, in how they care for themselves – trauma touches all aspects of a child’s life and future in wide ranging ways.
For example, in school, a child can have difficulty learning because of how trauma actually changes the brain. Children will be distracted by intrusive thoughts about the event that led to trauma. The violence they may have experienced or witnessed affects how a child deals with emotions and conflict. It is hard to form relationships or make good decisions.
In the classroom, what others see is a child who is not paying attention, getting poor grades, staying out of school, acting out and getting into trouble.
Suspensions, expulsions, dropping out. A terrible cycle with lifelong consequences.
When a child knows the world as a place of constant danger there are real effects that are physical, developmental, and emotional. In school, in their relationships with others, in how they care for themselves—trauma touches all aspects of a child’s life and future in wide-ranging ways.
School is just one part of a child’s life where trauma does its damage.
- Trauma can impact school performance.
- Trauma can impair learning.
- Traumatized children may experience physical and emotional distress.
- Traumatized children often display unpredictable and/or impulsive behavior
Recognizing the signs of traumatic stress may be different for each child and present differently at various ages and developmental stages.
Trauma, toxic stress and adverse childhood experiences change a child’s body and brain, which can have serious, lifelong consequences, according to a report from Harvard University.
- Hormone levels change.
- The immune system changes.
- There are neurological changes and epigenetic changes.
- The brain is in survival mode. When children perceive a situation as threatening or confusing, or triggering they automatically go into a fight, flight or freeze mode.
- It is very difficult to concentrate, use critical thinking, problem solving and planning.
Truama’s impact on learning and school:
Symptoms resulting from trauma can directly impact a student’s ability to learn. Students might be distracted by intrusive thoughts about the event that prevent them from paying attention in class, studying, or doing well on a test. Exposure to violence can lead to decreased IQ and reading ability. Some students might avoid going to school altogether.
Exposure to violence and other traumatic events can disrupt youths’ ability to relate to others and to successfully manage emotions in the classroom setting. This can lead to poor behavior, which can result in reduced instructional time, suspensions and expulsions. It can lead to lower grade point averages and reduced graduation rates, along with increased incidences of teen pregnancy, joblessness and poverty.