Defining Trauma (What Is It and Why Does It Matter)

Defining TraumaMany of the young people we work with here at Hope 4 Hurting Kids have experienced some sort of trauma in their lives. Whether we are dealing with the trauma itself or the side effects of it, it is important to understand what trauma really is and the impact it has on kids. This past week, I was listening to a podcast called the Trauma Informed Support podcast ( which included the most concise and clear definition I have heard. The podcast is directed towards teachers working with kids who have experienced a trauma, and I would expand the list of potential traumas included, but other than I think it is perfect for anyone working with young people. The name of the podcast is “What is Childhood Trauma?” Here is a transcript of the podcast which includes a link to the site.

“A traumatic event is an incident that causes physical, emotional, spiritual or psychological harm. The person experiencing the distressing event may feel threatened, anxious or frightened as a result. The term “childhood trauma” describes the problem of children’s exposure to multiple or prolonged traumatic events and the impact of this exposure on their development.

Typically complex trauma exposure involves the simultaneous or sequential occurrence of child maltreatment including psychological maltreatment, neglect, physical and sexual abuse and domestic violence that is chronic, begins in early childhood and occurs within the primary care giving system.

Experiences of elevated prolonged stress or trauma rock the very core of children and young people. In these circumstances, children are overwhelmed with the internal reactions that race through their brains and bodies. They do anything to survive, not because they want to but because they need to. They shut down their feelings. They push away memories of pain. They stop relying on relationships around them to protect them. They stop trusting and believing in others.

Even after the stressful or traumatic situation has passed, children’s brains and bodies continue to react as if the stress is continuing. They become self-protective. They spend a lot of their energy scanning the environment for threat. Their bodies act as if they are in a constant state of alarm. Their brains are endlessly vigilant.

Traumatized and stressed children and young people have little space left for learning. Their constant state of tension and arousal can leave them unable to concentrate, pay attention, retain or recall new information. Their behavior is often challenging in the school environment. They struggle to make positive peer relationships.

The consequences of trauma on children and young people are multiple yet they’re not well understood. These children are often labeled as disruptive, defiant and poor learners at high risk of disconnecting from school. With support, children and young people can and do recover from the harmful effects of trauma. To do so however, they need adults in their lives to be understanding of, and responsive to, their unique needs. They cannot easily adapt and change to their environment. Their environment and the people in it must adjust to help them. These children and young people need the space to learn to be created for them by those who care and support them.

In the last decade there has been an explosion of research about the inner workings and connections between the brain and the body. The knowledge base about neurobiology, relationships and trauma has begun to revolutionize the way we understand traumatized children’s behavior, their abilities and the impact of their past on their capacity to learn and relate to others.

To learn more about the Trauma Informed Positive Support Program please visit”


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Written by Wayne Stocks
Wayne is the founder and executive director of Hope 4 Hurting Kids. He is a happily married father of four kids with a passion for helping young people who are going through rough times. In addition to Hope 4 Hurting Kids, Wayne previously started I Am A Child of Divorce and Divorce Ministry 4 Kids to help kids who are dealing with the disruption of their parents' relationship. These are now part of Hope 4 Hurting Kids. Wayne speaks frequently at conferences and churches on issues related to helping kids learn to deal with difficult emotions and life in modern families. Wayne lives with his wife, three youngest kids, three dogs and an insane collection of his kids' other pets outside of Columbus, Ohio. In addition to his work with Hope 4 Hurting Kids, Wayne is a partner in a local consulting firm, an avid reader, coaches his son's soccer team and is a proud supporter of Leicester City Football Club (and yes, for those in know, his affinity for the club does predate the 2016 championship). You can reach Wayne at