Childhood trauma is an experience of an event by a child that is emotionally painful or distressful, which often results in lasting mental and physical effects. Events like sexual abuse, accidents, disasters and pandemics have a long-lasting impact on their life or bodily integrity and can clearly constitute trauma.
Childhood trauma also doesn’t have to occur directly to the child. For instance, watching a loved one suffer, exposure to violent media, among others, can be extremely traumatic as well. Let’s find out how childhood trauma affects learning and the ways you can help your kids to overcome it.
The exposure to traumatic events and the mental illness that can be associated with these events often results in:
• Adversely affect attention, memory, and cognition
• Reduce a child’s ability to focus, organize, and process information
• Interfere with effective problem solving and planning
• Result in overwhelming feelings of frustration and anxiety.
Consequently, this result in lower academic performance, more school absences, increased possibility of dropping out, more suspensions and expulsions, and fundamentally impact a child’s learning ability.
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This is manifested as uncontrolled anger, mood swings and uncooperative behavior. The memory of the trauma event triggers a quick defense mechanism, especially during criticism. As a result, the child is very indifferent and views any external corrections as potential sources of danger, leading to a blockage to learning.
A very important force in learning is that of self-esteem. Looking at oneself as one of great potential and worth succeeding is crucial in school as it sets healthy competition. However, victims of traumatic events tend to devalue themselves, especially if they are chronically exposed to traumatic events. The situation is accelerated if the event happens or is caused by a close relative.
Our brains are designed in a way so as they serve to protect us from danger through the institution of the fight-flight mode. Children exposed to such events tend to have limited interactions with the outside world as a mechanism of self-protection. This hinders their ability to learn and acquire passive knowledge as they keep in an inner world devoid of the realities of external communities.
Helping students overcome
Identify trauma triggers
Something you are doing or saying may be triggering your child without either of you realizing it. It is important to watch for patterns of behavior and reactions that do not seem to “fit” the situation. What distracts, makes him or her anxious, or results in a tantrum or outburst? Help your child avoid situations that trigger traumatic memories, at least until more healing has occurred.
As a parent or caretaker, you need to be physically and emotionally available. Provide attention, comfort, and encouragement in ways your child will accept. This might just mean spending time together as a family. Follow their lead and be patient if children seem needy.
Don’t avoid difficult topics or uncomfortable conversations. Let children know that it’s normal to have many feelings after a traumatic experience. Take their reactions seriously, correct any misinformation about the traumatic event and reassure them that what happened was not their fault.
Everyone heals differently from trauma, and trust does not develop overnight. Respecting each child’s own course of recovery is important.
Positive experiences can help children recover from trauma and increase resilience. Examples include mastering a new skill, feeling a sense of belonging to a community, group, or cause, setting and achieving goals, and being of service to others.
Trauma affects people’s behavior in different ways that may be confusing or distressing for caregivers. However, with understanding, care, a safe environment, proper treatment (when necessary), we are all possible solutions to the problem. Creating or strengthening school-based mental health supports is a good step in the right direction. Above all, spread love as love covers many injuries and is the best preventive measure.
Robert Everett works for an NGO that focuses on developing programs for the mental wellness of school and college-level students. He’s also a brilliant academic writer and works part-time with students to help them do their homework and essay writing effectively. In his free time, he loves relaxing in the pool, playing billiards and reading classic novels.