The Impact of Childhood Trauma on Learning

Teacher giving a student extra help in the classroom after realizing the impact of childhood trauma on learning.

I’m a behaviorist by nature. That makes it even more surprising when I pulled out all the stops, yet nothing seemed to work with this student. This was when I decided to research the impact of childhood trauma on learning.

I believe that behavior is directly related to what happens immediately before and after the action. Applied Behavior Analysis makes so much sense to me because it’s scientific rather than emotionally charged.


The Impact of Childhood Trauma on Learning 


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When working with a student who has behaviors that prevent learning, I will use my knowledge and ability to implement strategies and interventions to replace the behavior with ones that don’t impede learning. 

Sometimes it takes more time and small gains. Other times we see a change right away in remarkable ways. Regardless, you can scientifically hypothesize how it will work.

But students who have experienced trauma don’t often respond the same way that others do. Many times this is because the impact of the trauma was interfering with his learning. 


What is Trauma? 

The American Psychological Association defines trauma as “an emotional response to a terrible event.” Trauma can transform the matter in your brain. 

There are many ways trauma affects you, but especially children. Events that you may think aren’t a big deal may be traumatic to children. 

Childhood Trauma Can Be:

  • Being bullied
  • Witnessing violence
  • Natural Disaster
  • Pandemic
  • Abuse or neglect
  • A parent going through Cancer

How do Children Experience Trauma? 

De Bellis & Zisk’s article: The Biological Effects of Childhood Trauma discusses how the child experiences the trauma doesn’t necessarily change the outcome. It still leads to the same problems. 


3 Ways a Child Can Experience Trauma

  • Directly impacted by being a part of it
  • A witness to it 
  • Learned about it happening to someone in their life  


All of these experiences “are associated with greater rates of PTSD, PTSS, depression and anxiety, antisocial behaviors and greater risk for alcohol and substance use disorders.” (De Bellis & Zisk 2014)


Effects of Trauma on Students

The effects of trauma manifest in many different ways.

Here are a few examples:

  • There’s new evidence that trauma changes your brain make up and can cause biological reactions.  
  • Some students may be in a continuous state of “fight or flight” with anxieties so high, they can’t seem focus.  
  • Intermittent outbursts could happen for “no reason” or maybe their PTSD is triggered.  
  • Trauma can also lead to memory and cognition issues. If they are so overwhelmed by their experiences, how can anything else be worth thinking about? 

I don’t know if that’s what the research says. But as a first-time new mother, my anxiety was through the roof. I get how the little things weren’t so important. 

  • Lastly, emotional regulation can be so off that students could end up with reactive attachment disorders. This is an inability to engage in relationships successfully.  


There are a lot of possibilities. The effects of trauma on students will not all present in the same way.  

It’s essential to identify students who may be affected by trauma. Then you will need to try to work to help them manage these effects effectively. There is a framework for this called “Trauma Informed.”


Help for Traumatized Children 

Check out our article 4 Teaching Strategies for Traumatized Students to use strategies when working with traumatized students in the classroom.

Helping Traumatized Children Learn has some wonderful ideas that would help create trauma-informed environments that could help students grow and, again, manifest those experiences into something positive.  

Do you have strategies that have helped in your classroom with childhood trauma? Please share them in the comments below. 

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De Bellis, M. D., & Zisk, A. (2014). The biological effects of childhood trauma. Child and adolescent psychiatric clinics of North America, 23(2), 185-222, vii.



Teacher giving a student extra help in the classroom after realizing the impact of childhood trauma on learning.
Do you have students that are unfocused, acting out, or having memory issues? The Impact of Childhood Trauma on Learning may be the cause.

Picture of Luke Dalien

Luke Dalien

Author Luke Dalien has spent his life dedicated to helping others break the chains of normal so that they may live fulfilled lives. When he’s not busy creating books aimed to bring a smile to the faces of children, he and his amazing wife, Suzie, work tirelessly on their joint passion; helping children with special needs reach their excellence. Together, they founded an online tutoring and resource company, Poetry, which had been a personal endeavor of Luke’s for the better part of two decades, was mainly reserved for his beautiful wife, and their two amazing children, Lily and Alex. With several “subtle nudges” from his family, Luke finally decided to share his true passion in creativity with the world through his first children’s book series, “The Adventures Of The Silly Little Beaver."

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