Trauma Informed Practice (#1)


Whilst I was on sabbatical in the United Kingdom I came across a school in Kensington, London which was focusing on Trauma Informed Practice for Schools. This reading from the Australian Childhood Foundation is a very useful summary for educators. I have been working through this with my Senior Leadership Team.

Experiences of elevated, prolonged stress or trauma rock the very core of children and young people. The internal reactions that race through their brains are often overwhelming.This leads to their survival instincts kicking in. They shut down. Push away pain and avoid trusting others.

Children suffering trauma have little space for learning. This constant state of tension and arousal can leave them unable to concentrate, retain and recall new information. The trauma also affects the way they make relationships, understand the world and suffer memories that constantly remind them of fear and confusion.

Section 1.1: What is Trauma?

Trauma is the emotional, psychological and physiological residue left over from heightened stress accompanies experiences of threat, violence and life-challenging events.

The reading identifies three types of trauma - Simple, Complex and Developmental.

  • Simple Trauma - Simple trauma includes the experience of being in car accidents, house fires, earthquakes and other natural disasters.

  • Complex Trauma - Complex trauma generally includes multiple incidents and is longer in duration.Examples of complex trauma include child abuse, bullying, domestic violence, rape, war and imprisonment.

  • Developmental Trauma - Developmental trauma includes children who are neglected, abused, forced to live with family violence or experience high parental conflict.

Trauma can impact on all aspects of children's development.

Complex developmental trauma reduces the capacity of the thinking part of children's brains to shape the way they react to challenges in their environment. The result of this trauma children can appear to behave instinctively and inappropriately, without knowing why. Complex developmental trauma impairs the growth of the bridge between the left and right hemisphere - thus children find it difficult to know and name their feelings and read social cues. This causes frustration and increases the arousal level. Therefore, children become easily triggered by seemingly minor issues. Complex developmental trauma locks down children's ability to change. Children become normalised in their responses to trauma however, when there is no risk present the responses can often seem inappropriate.

Complex trauma leads children to have beliefs about themselves that are determined by the people that violate them. They become cautious about being hurt and struggle to make new relationships. Also, their overactive brains make it difficult to take on new information.

Ben Ward-Smith


Lytton Street School, Feilding

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