Identifying trauma in children is difficult because a child’s normal behavior can be similar to traumatized behavior. Diagnosing trauma usually falls into the hands of educators and school personnel, but when armed with the following facts they will be equipped to help children in their care and start the healing process.

The brain develops from the bottom up, focusing first on survival; once safe, it moves towards bonding. Traumatized children’s brains are stuck in stress, the stove is always hot. When the brain is so focused on stress, it is difficult or even impossible to engage in school, impacting the child’s ability to connect to classmates or learn.

Changes to a child’s normal routine is overly stimulating, Without the ability to self-sooth, traumatized children will frequently act out. You may observe bullying, aggressive behaviors, or difficulty focusing, or paying attention.

According to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, trauma effects learning and behavior in 1 of 4 children. When developmental delays such as speech problems or difficulty reading presents, be sure to consider trauma as a potential cause.  

The circumstances surrounding the trauma are also important to consider. The severity of the event, whether the child witnessed, heard, or only saw the aftermath of the event, the caregiver’s response, and whether racism or discrimination were present will increase the risk to the child

After the trauma, when the child hears a sound, smells a scent, or sees an image associated with the traumatic event, the brain increases the amount of stress hormones in the body. In order to cope with the stress, the child may zone out, experience sleep problems, or even seem to revert to earlier stages of development.

Trauma impacts the entire body, and health problems like bedwetting, headaches, and gastro-intestinal distress are common. Additionally, difficulties with emotions and feelings might arise, potentially leading children to abuse substances to cope.

The healing process begins when child is able to process his or her feelings and know that what happened was not their fault.

There are many ways educators and school personnel can help, including encouraging the use of drawing or journaling to express feelings, and providing structure throughout daily activities. Talk with the child’s caregivers about how to respond supportively.

The sooner the child gets help the better. The brain is able to heal when engaged in healthy relationships, social activities, and physical activity. It’s never too late to get help and start healing, but starting early will prevent the most severe developmental issues, reducing the need for intensive work later in life.