Learning and Trauma

Every day, students enter a classroom with paper, pencils, and backpacks, as well as their own unique viewpoints on the world. Every child develops their own expectations and knowledge based on their experiences in the community, at home, and at school. In addition, nearly every school has at least one kid who has been through traumatic events. When they see or are abused or ignored by their caregivers, they enter the classroom with the impression that the world is an unpredictable and dangerous environment (Flannery, Wester, and Singer 560). A majority of people think that trauma is an event whereas it is a response to a stressful occurrence where a person’s capacity to cope is intensely weakened. One of the leading problems concerning children’s learning process is trauma and the effects it brings on a child.

Traumatic events include being targets of the different forms of abuse, observing violence between their guardians, having a parent abusing substances or having mental health issues, and living with a person that has been to jail. Other children have had to go through constant bullying, flee war-torn places, homelessness, live in violent neighborhoods, stay with someone with trauma, or undergo intrusive medical procedures. Such cases show that a substantial number of children continue to be impacted by significant adversity. These experiences in childhood result in a lot of difficulties in the children’s social, academic, and emotional lives. As one gets older, the risk of abusing drugs or overeating can be adopted as mechanisms of coping. Such responses are very detrimental to children’s ability to learn.

PTSD in Children

Young ones could have PTSD if they have experienced something that resulted in their or someone else’s death or being badly hurt. Research has shown that over fourteen percent of boys and girls experience no less than one trauma. Of those kids that have trauma, a significant number develop PTSD. Nevertheless, such cases are higher for some types of trauma survivors. The risk factors for getting this condition include the severity of the trauma, reactions of the guardians, and the child’s closeness to the trauma (Dyregrov and Yule 179). Therefore, those that go through the most severe traumas develop many PTSD symptoms. Nonetheless, these symptoms may be less serious if the kid gets more support from the family and if the parents are less angry about the trauma. Additionally, the more traumas one is exposed to, the higher the likelihood of acquiring PTSD. Also, girls tend to be at an increased risk of getting PTSD compared to boys.

This condition brings about some unwanted changes in children. They tend to have issues remembering some aspects of the trauma. Also, they could arrange the events that happened to them in the wrong order. Additionally, some children tend to contemplate that there were signs that led up to the trauma. Hence, they stay keen to identify the signs again to avoid similar experiences in the future. This PTSD is also seen in the way they play, mostly by repeating something about the traumatic experience (Dyregrov and Yule 181). These games facilitate the repeat of the event instead of making the worry go away. For instance, a child that has witnessed a shooting may be inclined to play games that involve shooting. Moreover, for those in their teenage years, impulsiveness may become part of their character.

Impact on Learning

The Traumatized Child’s Brain

Exposure to constant stress and many traumas tend to change children’s brains, which easily influences their flight or flee capacities from perceived dangers in addition to making it harder to focus and study. Comprehending this neuroscience is instrumental for educators to ensure that their lessons are trauma-sensitive (Flannery, Wester, and Singer 562). Nevertheless, it is imperative to note that even for students that have not undergone any trauma, such approaches will be beneficial to them in coping with those that have. Research has shown that kids that have had adverse experiences will tend to grow up to be people that have higher chances of being violent, sick, married frequently, and prone to miss work. It has also become evident that the impact of trauma is not saved until adulthood, but it commences early thus impacting teachers and students.

Kindergartners that have gone through tough events tend to be below average when it comes to reading and math. They have higher chances of being aggressive and having issues staying attentive (Flannery, Wester, and Singer 562). Such outcomes are brought about by the alteration of the brain. Due to immense stress, the brain tends to activate fight or flight reactions besides diminishing the parts of the brain where learning occurs, mainly concerning language. When this frequently happens, particularly in kids under the age of five years, the brain becomes fundamentally transformed. Now, it is adapted for survival under adverse conditions.

However, this situation is detrimental to schooling. Such students will tend to struggle with all the aspects of language, writing, and word retrieval. Memory also suffers in a significant manner thus making such kids very forgetful. They have a hard time remembering ideas that they have been instructed on. Such kids are usually like they were never taught something the next day after a teacher introduces something. Their conduct is also affected owing to living in a hyper-awareness state characterized by constant fear resulting in their quickness to rage (Flannery, Wester, and Singer 564). They are subconsciously trying to protect themselves, but others may perceive such demeanor as disrespect, defiance, or over aggression. Others may seem as if they are drifting off, but it is just their brains instructing them on the need to stay safe.

The Effect on Cognitive Functions

Due to experiencing a traumatic incident, people tend to become frozen besides remaining in a galvanized arousal state. In this case, arousal describes to an amplified alertness or constant fear for one’s safety (Steele 35). It can hamper cognitive and behavioral capacities. In so doing, the brain tends to change. Children that have trauma due to being physically or sexually abused tend to have diminished memory volume in their left areas of the brain compared to those that have experienced the same. This part of the brain is responsible for comprehending or processing data. The disability to process info is particularly amplified when in the arousal state. A good scenario to help in understanding the problem arousal brings about in this function is that of a patient speaking with his physician concerning a life-threatening condition. In the arousal state, the patient is unable to process anything, but it is only when they get home, a place they consider safe, that they forgot to ask all the pertinent questions. It explains why most people are usually advised to make such visits with a family member.

Hence, the same case will happen to children whereby in the arousal state, they will not comprehend whatever the teacher is saying. When a traumatized student stays alert due to fear, they tend to find it challenging to process verbal information (Steele 35). Therefore, they will be incapable of following instructions, recalling what was said, and making sense out of what the teacher or others were saying. Focusing and remembering such info becomes hard thus showing the way their primary learning functions become affected by trauma. Such changes may go unrecognized thus boosting the effects on a child’s performance in school.

It is, therefore, clear that trauma will result in cognitive deficits. Traumatized children will be prone to be poor in solving problems, have low self-esteem due to developing victim-thinking, and hopelessness. In so doing, healthy cognitive development is significantly compromised. Additionally, cognitive changes due to trauma can happen at any age even for early infants. The right brain is usually tasked with the vital functions that enable survival in addition to active and passive coping of stress (Steele 36). Hence, trauma results in the adverse altering of the ability to regulate the response to stress. They will develop an amplified state of fear. For instance, the 9/11 attacks led to a majority of guardians rushing to school to take their children home. This action was motivated by fear and confusion, which had hampered their ability to think clearly meaning that they could not process the things that were happening. Their arousal meant that their perception of safety was no longer there thus hampering their cognitive processes.

The Effect on Sensory Functions

Traumatized individuals tend to feel unsafe at the sensory level with particular demeanors being seen in reaction to what is sensed. It is common for such people to experience amplified withdrawal and feel aggressive and agitated in addition to losing small motor capacities. Some people have been known to stutter or become unable to sleep, make a call, or unlock a door (Steele 40). In the case of children, most become easily frightened thus becoming oversensitive to alleged threats. Memory also becomes very choosy and associated to events that bear some personal meaning for them with regard to a traumatic incident. If it entails a sensory threat, which could be perceived or real, demeanor transforms accordingly. In addition to the cognitive deficits, behavioral transformations tend to be seen to be stubbornness, confrontation, resistance, over-reactiveness, or having a learning disability. Such attributes are detrimental to the learning process as the mind is not focused.

Since trauma is a sensory experience, it is programmed in the implicit memory, which is on the right side of the brain. This memory indicates the way the body remembers an event. The experience is usually kept implicitly via sensations, images, behavioral and affective states (Steele 41). Additionally, during traumatic incidents, any attempts to appeal to the explicit memory are not usually enough. What one senses becomes far more pertinent to survival than verbal information. For instance, after 9/11 attacks, the president informed people that they were safe, but most parents needed to see their children to believe that they were safe. Therefore, children may also look for sensory experiences that bring about relief as opposed to learning when they are at school.

The Effect on Behavior

The sense of danger results in the alteration of behavior, which may impact the teachers or the students adversely. A good instance is the 9/11 terror attacks. Panic led to the teaching staff, experts in the field of managing children, leaving TV sets on the whole day in classrooms across the nation. They could not even acknowledge the unnecessary exposure they unconsciously provided to the students (Steele 42). Nonetheless, some weeks later after normalcy had returned and some sense of safety had been achieved, these educators recognized that they had made a mistake since their thought process had been interrupted with. They were no longer functioning at a cognitive level. On the other hand, whenever students do not feel safe, they are unable to learn. It becomes difficult to remember besides behaving in ways that are deemed problematic. Only when they feel safe can the restoration of cognitive processes be realized thereby allowing behaviors to return to the pre-trauma level (Steele 42).

Additionally, traumatized students may feel like the school is a battleground in which their perceptions of the world as a dangerous place hamper their capacity to stay calm and regulate their behavior in class. Children react to trauma by developing coping mechanisms to augment their perception of feeling in control and safe. However, such actions tend to frustrate teachers besides eliciting enraged reprisals. Such outcomes only serve to cement the child’s outlooks of danger and confrontation thereby reinforcing a negative image of self and the school. In addition to becoming profoundly misunderstood, such children tend to be unable to comprehend social cues and convey feelings in a proper way. Thereby, such aspects only result in intensifying the behavioral problems that bring about academic difficulties.

The Effect on Relationships

A traumatized child tends to either act out or withdraw and become depressed. Nevertheless, irrespective of their behavioral response, they lose learning time besides having strained relationships with their teachers and classmates. Trauma results in the development of insecure relationships both outside and inside the school. Due to great preoccupation with their safety, traumatized kids are prone to be distrustful of adults or fellow students (Flannery, Wester, and Singer 566). Also, they may become unconfident of the school’s security. Moreover, due to their changed behavior, they could have delays in the development of social skills pertinent to their age. In so doing, such kids will become incapable of initiating or cultivating healthy relationships in their lives.


In conclusion, trauma is one of the leading problems relative to a child’s learning process due to the impacts it brings about in a child’s life. It is imperative to not that in every school at least one child has undergone devastating experiences, which could even lead to PTSD. Learning to write and read, engage in a discussion, and solve mathematical questions is founded on many aspects including comprehension, organization, trust, memory, involvement in learning, and the ability to complete tasks. An additional necessity for becoming competent in the classroom is the possession of the capacity to regulate one’s behavior, emotions, and attention. It is clear that trauma leads to overwhelming experiences that are successful in disturbing a student’s establishment of these foundations. Trauma weakens the development of communication and language skills, frustrates the founding of a clear sense of self, obstructs the capacity to remember and organize info, threatens the ability to become involved in classroom tasks and following instructions, and harbors the making of relationships, all of which are necessary to learn efficiently. Therefore, a child’s academic performance is compromised.

Works Cited

Dyregrov, Atle, and William Yule. “A review of PTSD in children.” Child and Adolescent Mental Health 11.4 (2006): 176-184.

Flannery, Daniel J., Kelly L. Wester, and Mark I. Singer. “Impact of exposure to violence in school on child and adolescent mental health and behavior.” Journal of community psychology 32.5 (2004): 559-573.

Steele, William. “Trauma’s Impact on learning and behavior: A case for interventions in schools.” Trauma and loss: Research and interventions 2.2 (2002): 34-47.

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