School Age: The Impact of Trauma on Development

This level offers information about the impact of trauma on the four aspects of development identified in Step 1.

At Step 3 you will find information about trainings and tools designed to help overcome the impact of trauma on both youth and caregivers.


Physical: Effects of Trauma

The growth of children who have suffered from neglect may be compromised, resulting in their being weaker and less well coordinated than their peers. Decreased muscle strength interferes with the development of both gross and fine motor skills, diminishing children’s interest in practicing running, jumping, writing or keyboarding, for example. Without exercise those muscles do not gain strength. With compromised immune systems they may be more vulnerable to typical childhood illnesses, which can further interfere with healthy growth patterns. When heightened stress response becomes the baseline, as it so often does for traumatized children, it impedes neurological development, interfering with the growth of the frontal lobes, so crucial for learning and school success. Learn More

Cognitive: Effects of Trauma

Trauma is often associated with learning disabilities in this age group. Children may develop learning disabilities as a result of disrupted brain development or anxiety and or/depression may lead to a misdiagnosis of learning difficulties. Brain immaturity due to trauma can interfere with the ability to acquire new information and to connect it with old information. Because they have trouble planning and creating order, their spoken and written stories will often be muddled without a clear beginning, middle, or end. This may reflect both cognitive immaturity and offer a window into the chaos of their internal world. Children cannot learn well if they cannot “pay attention” and they cannot be expected to attend if they are preoccupied with painful thoughts or because they let their minds wander to avoid those thoughts. Learn More

Social: Effects of Trauma

Traumatized children have difficulties in all aspects of social interactions. They may express aggression through bullying or exerting power and control over others. Alternatively, they may shrink from play and other group activities and/or allow themselves to be victimized because they have not learned appropriate ways of protecting themselves. If, as a result of trauma, they are less well coordinated than their classmates and behind them academically, they may be reluctant to join group activities. Additionally, it is often difficult for traumatized children to accept help from adults, because they have often experienced offers of assistance as humiliating or criticisms.  Traumatized children often distrust and are suspicious that others can offer support, comfort and guidance and feel as if they can rely only on themselves. Learn More

Emotional: Effects of Trauma

Because traumatized children have difficulty with relationships, they lose out on the positive interactions with adults and children that promote emotional growth. Their tendency to over-react to even slightly negative encounters makes other children shy away from them or to respond to them with physical or verbal aggression. Teachers, coaches, and other adults often fail to respond to them positively or offer help as readily as they do to other children, thereby contributing to the delays in their emotional development. Some traumatized school age children are emotionally more volatile than their peers, while others appear emotionally numb and withdrawn. They do not have access to fluid expression of emotions. Their difficulties regulating feelings and behavior, make their interactions unpredictable, which can be particularly confusing and sometimes frightening to other children. Learn More

Step 3: Trainings & Tools »