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The Link Between Trauma and Education

Educators play one of the most important roles in the growth and development of children. Children from all walks of life, attend school. Young people rely on educators to be a constant, to be informed about the issues that impact them most and support them to thrive not survive.

The scope of psychological trauma

66% young people have reported experiencing at least 1 traumatic event in their lives, before the age of 16. In a classroom of 20 children, that equates to approximately 13 children who have experienced a traumatic event and are living with the impact of psychological trauma. When we discuss trauma, we are referring to young people who have; experienced neglect, physical, sexual and emotional abuse, domestic or community violence or a single traumatic event such as a serious accident. For more information about defining trauma and traumatic experiences, please click here.

The Human Brain - In English! Our brains develop 'back-to-front', from the most basic structures through to the most complex. As a result, the last part of the human brain to develop is the cerebral cortex, the front of our brain, located just behind our forehead. This is the most highly developed part of the brain and is responsible for; higher-order thinking, perception, understanding and processing language, contextualising information and acting. This part of the brain, is divided into 4 lobes (sections) that each have a very specific functions. Some of their basic functions include; survival (regulating our breathing and heart rate), regulating sleep cycles, recognising and responding to threatening stimuli and the production of hormones. Research suggests that this part of the brain is the most impacted by psychological trauma.

Psychological Trauma and Children

Children are particularly susceptible to psychological trauma due to their rapidly developing brain. During traumatic experiences, a childs' brain is in a heightened state of stress, causing the over production of fear-related hormones. Although stress is a normal part of life and essential to the development of resilience, if intervention strategies are not implemented soon after the traumatic event, the brain remains in this heightened state and focused only survival. When this occurs, the brain structures change and develop in the way that promotes survival and the neurons in the brain do not function in order to develop and memorise new information or motor skills. As a result, psychological trauma can result in the human brain being underdeveloped, the brain will not develop in areas of higher-order thinking and the development of other cognitive functions if it cannot first, survive. Over time, these traumatic experiences can have significant impact on a child's future behaviour, emotional development and mental and physical health. A video that explains the impact of childhood trauma on the brain can be found here. Recognising Trauma

Trauma in children can be seen in many forms. Some signs that children may be experiencing difficulties that could be trauma-related include:

  • Hyperactivity

  • Assaultive behaviour

  • Lack of impulse control

  • Eating and sleeping disturbances

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Depressive symptoms or anxiety

  • Behavioural changes

  • Difficulty with self-regulation

  • Difficulty relating to others or forming healthy attachments

  • Regression or loss of previously acquired skills

For more behaviours associated with trauma please click here.

Impact on Education

Thankfully, for the most part, children and their families can receive support from their school to help them achieve their goals. Most educators have covered trauma in their studies but research shows that an increasing amount of educators are reaching out for further professional development in this area.

Young people who have experienced psychological trauma are not 'brain damaged' or 'developmentally delayed' as we know it. However, despite this, they do require a unique approach from educators to ensure that their needs are met. Their brains are survival-focused and are not as attentive to retaining new information and responding to mainstream discipline approaches. Frameworks for practice when engaging with young people must include trauma-informed practices. These practices provide educators with the knowledge and skills to build healthy and positive relationships in order to best support young people to heal, and get the most out of their education.

Is there any good news?

Yes! Psychological Trauma can have very severe impact on the structure, development and the functioning of the human brain. Despite this, the impact of trauma on a child can be reduced and young people who have experienced psychological trauma can still reach their potential and live long and happy lives. Through positive engagement and appropriate skills for practice, young people can thrive not survive. What can you do? Psychological trauma is an in-depth concept that encompasses many ideas and concepts for those who engage with vulnerable young people. The best thing you can do is be trauma aware and trauma informed. Learn more about trauma, the impact of trauma on the development of young people and seek advice about how you can incorporate trauma-informed strategies into your practice. If you, or someone you know would like more information relating to trauma and the impact of psychological trauma on children at school, please feel free to contact us via email at


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