understanding trauma


Trauma is inherently complex. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network explains the complexities of trauma including varying degrees of objective life threat, physical violation, and witnessing of injury or death. Children have many different subjective reactions to trauma and they may think about different protective actions they can take but they may or may not be able to do them in the moment. This can lead to guilt, confusion, regret and anger. When there are multiple or recurring cases of trauma the complexity is greater. 

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network explains that traumatic events often generate secondary adversities. Families can be separated from one another, there may be financial hardships, families may have to move, or other things change that build on the stress of the trauma. The effects of trauma can be seen in children’s attachments to the people in their lives, friendships or lack of friendships, emotional regulation and in their ability to function at school, home and in the community. When there are protective factors in place such as positive attachments with caregivers, strong social networks, reliable adults and supportive community and school environments children may be able to recover more quickly. 


When I was seven years old my home was flooded and my family and I had to be evacuated after the water was swirling around our home. I remember my parents watching the water rise and deciding when we needed to leave. The fire department had to be called in order to rescue us. Firemen came into our home through the front door with their hose. They tied the hose to the leg of our dining room table and then two firemen lifted my brother and I up and carried us through the rushing water to place us safely in the front seat of the fire truck. My parents followed, holding the hose as they walked to the back of the truck where they had to stand and hold on while the truck drove through the water to get us out. That night we stayed at a neighbors house at the top of the hill just up from our house. Through the night we listened to a man call for help who was stranded on a porch not far from our house. For some time after that we had to stay with friends of the family because we could not go home. We then rented a house for a year because we couldn’t move back home. This was an extremely traumatic event for me. It is one of my strongest memories from my childhood. 


When I think of this memory I think about all of the protective factors that were in place for me to be able to pull through that experience without major negative impacts on my life. I also think of how strong my parents were to provide my brother and I with the support we needed during that time because as an adult I can only imagine how traumatic the whole expereince was for them. But they also had protective factors. We have strong family connections and supports throughout our extended family. My parents had supports in their religious community and in the community of our town. For me this traumatic event has become a story of my life but has never felt like something difficult I needed to work through.

But I think about my students and the trauma they experience. One of my students had one major traumatic event in his life but he does not have the same protective factors that I had. He has a supportive and loving mother but she also is traumatized by the event. Due to the event there has been more hardship in the family’s life and the family was already living in an unsafe neighborhood and struggling financially. Understanding the effects of trauma can help me to better understand his behaviors in my classroom, write more appropriate goals for his IEP, and create a behavior plan that is appropriate for him. 

As I stated in a previous post, I am doing a series of posts specifically around trauma for an assignment. The reason I chose trauma as my topic is because I see how it affects people’s lives and I want to understand it more so that I can be a better teacher to my students and be more supportive to people within my community who have experienced trauma. For many years prior to beginning any work with students who have experienced trauma I have known people in my life who have survived traumatic experiences. I have always been interested in understanding their stories better, interested in why some are able to overcome their experiences while others may have some part of them that gets stuck at the age when their traumatic event occurred. I have also been very interested in the internalization of trauma and how that effects our bodies. I believe that by understanding the signs and effects of trauma I will be able to serve my students better. 

(Pictures in this post are from the Flood of 1982 in East Haddam, CT)

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