The Effects of Trauma on the Developing Brain

The Effects of Trauma on the Developing BrainThe word trauma may lead people to think about accidents or injuries. However, abuse and neglect are also traumatic experiences that affect a developing brain. The brain can be considered the command post for all activity in the body. However, the primary job of the brain is to receive, process and act on information from the external and internal environment to promote survival.

How the Brain Develops

The brain has two primary regions. The bottom region includes the brainstem and the midbrain and it controls the basic functions of respiration, heart rate and blood pressure. The top region includes the limbic and cortex and it controls thinking and regulates emotions. From birth, the brain first develops the bottom region to ensure basic survival and then develops the top region later. As the brain develops, it adapts to various internal and external experiences. It is this adaptation that builds the framework for the further development of the brain.

Trauma and Brain Development

The brain reacts to external experiences and adapts its functioning accordingly. Abuse and neglect are traumatic and hinder the brain’s development. During trauma, the brain reacts to the fear associated with trauma and adapts by changing emotional, behavioral and cognitive functioning to promote survival.

The Brain’s Reaction to Chronic Trauma

If a child remains in an abusive or negligent environment, the brain needs to stay on alert for an extended period of time, which results in hyper-vigilance which has characteristics that include the following:

  • Focus on threat-related cues
  • Anxiety
  • Impulsive behaviors
  • Sleep problems
  • Increased heart rate

While the brain adapts to ensure the child’s survival, chronic reactions may cause some troubles when the child encounters problems throughout life.

Rewiring the Brain after Trauma

The brain is an adaptable piece of machinery, especially during the early development stages. Therefore, it is possible to rewire the brain of a child who has been exposed to abuse and neglect. The first way to relieve fear-based stress is to create an environment that is safe and empowers the child. To do so, the child needs to experience the following benefits:

  • Consistency
  • Familiarity
  • Repetition
  • Nurturing
  • Predictability

With continued exposure to these elements, the brain can move from fearful reactions to a more calm and balanced state.

Help for Children with Trauma

It is human nature for us to want to protect our offspring. When a parent is addicted to drugs or alcohol, human nature is overcome with the need to acquire and use drugs or alcohol to feed addiction. In these cases, children become collateral damage and need a voice. We can help you any time because we are open 24 hours a day. Call our toll-free helpline to learn more about trauma and what you can do to help your child.

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