Trauma and Learning

The capacity of traumatised children and young people to learn is significantly compromised.  Children and young people who have experienced toxic levels of stress and trauma find the demands of the school environment extremely challenging to navigate and benefit from.  This is due to a range of factors, as follows. 

Toxic stress causes memory systems to degrade and fail. 

Stress Hormones

For traumatised children, stress hormones can stay high constantly throughout the day instead of following the natural rhythm which sees them peaking in the morning and gradually wearing down during the afternoon and early evening.  This contributes to limited attention span and difficulties with concentration.  It also means that these children may experience eating and sleeping difficulties, which further impact on their capacity to engage positively with learning opportunities.

Brain Development

If trauma or stress occurs during the period of time when the left hemisphere is more dominant in its development, then children and young people will experience difficulties being able to process language. This may lead to delays in language acquisition and comprehension.  They are also more likely to experience difficulties with executing logic and sequence tasks. 


The constant interaction with others at school can also be a source of ongoing stress.  Young people with experiences of trauma struggle with the semi-structured environment of school that allows for change without the need for preparation.  In these contexts, traumatised children and young people spend their energy just surviving.  

Further Resources