How do violence and trauma affect a child’s brain? 

Watch this video:

A research-based discussion by Ron Huxley, LMFT

It is interesting how society views traumatic experiences. We tend to “sweep it under the rug” and pretend it doesn’t affect us or tell ourselves to “move on.” So many people come into my office who have a long list of traumatic experiences but can’t identify one reason why they are having problems in their work and family relationships today.

If we as adults do not recognize the effects of exposure to violence and traumatic abuse and neglect, we won’t recognize it in our children either. There is a belief that children are resilient and they won’t remember the early incidents of violence in their lives but that is simply not sound science or everyday reality.

Watch the video above to see what modern-day researchers are saying about a child’s exposure to violence and trauma. I will make a few more comments that highlight areas for parenting the traumatized child. 

The child’s brain develops from the bottom up and the inside out. Fear disrupts and shuts down the thinking areas of the brain that shows up in night terrors, severe tantrums and difficulty in attachment and bonding. At times, it seems that children have no conscience or remorse. These are survival strategies!

Children exposed to violence and trauma have a higher rate of mental health issues and chaotic relationships later in life. It is a “lifetime legacy” with unhealthy coping behaviors and individuals end up doing the very thing that was done to them no matter how much they vow to never be or do that to another human being.

Healing for traumatized children needs to re-experience stressful situations by using calmer, more rational strategies. Being able to talk about feelings instead of acting them out is crucial to children. Children need “healthy adults to connect to…”

Traumatized children who become parenting themselves have to re-learn how to create an environment that is safe and healthy. The “most important thing a parent needs to understand is that a child’s brain will become what it is exposed to…The brain is a mirror of a child’s experience.”

It seems simplistic but if you want your child to be kind, they have to be treated kindly. If you want your children to feel safe, they need to experience safety. If you want your child to be respectful, you have to treat them respectfully.

What are your reactions to this video? How have you overcome your traumatized childhood and become a safe, healthy parent?

Video source: (via

Abused Children Similar to War Vets

Children who have been abused or witnessed violence suffer similar trauma to war veterans…

LONDON (Reuters) ­ Children exposed to family violence show the same pattern of activity in their brains as soldiers exposed to combat, scientists said on Monday. In a study in the journal Current Biology, researchers used brain scans to explore the impact of physical abuse or domestic violence on children’s emotional development and found that exposure to it was linked to increased activity in two brain areas when children were shown pictures of angry faces.

Previous studies that scanned the brains of soldiers exposed to violent combat situations showed the same pattern of heightened activity in these two brain areas ­­ the anterior insula and the amygdala ­­ which experts say are associated with detecting potential threats. This suggests that both maltreated children and soldiers may have adapted to become “hyper­aware” of danger in their environment, the researchers said. “Enhanced reactivity to a…threat cue such as anger may represent an adaptive response for these children in the short term, helping keep them out of danger,” said Eamon McCrory of Britain’s University College London, who led the study.

Childhood Aggression Predicts Health Care Use Later in Life

Ron Huxley Responds: This repost from Brain Blogger outlines how children who are chronically aggressive at children has increased risks of health issues later in life. The most obvious reason for this is that angry children turn out to be angry adults, which has serious social and health costs. The 15-year longitudinal study revealed that aggressive lifestyles led to increase drug use, alcohol dependency, injuries and overall poor health. Anger takes a toll on our lives!

The blog states: “Young children can be physically aggressive, owing to a combination of instinct, temperament, cultural and social influences, and (sometimes) not getting what they want. But, by the time most kids reach preschool age, they have learned to control their aggression with coping skills and relational techniques. However, children who do not learn to regulate aggressive behavior are at risk for physical and mental health issues, as well as serious patterns of aggression and violence, as adults.”

Children have to learn social skills. They will hit, bite, or knock other children down as a very primal solution to who “gets to play the toy” or any other challenging social situation. Parents have the responsibility to model appropriate social behavior and teach children common social skills.

Homes with lots of stress and conflict can make teaching children how to get along with others as they look for a release valve for their anxiety. This can turn inward or outward depending on the temperament of the child. The solution to this, while not always simple, is to have healthier marriages and improve family communication.

How have you managed anger in children? What tips can you share on teaching social skills?

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Exposure to Intimate Partner Violence, Peer Relations, and Risk for Internalizing Behaviors

Exposure to Intimate Partner Violence, Peer Relations, and Risk for Internalizing Behaviors

A Prospective Longitudinal Study

  1. Kathleen Camacho1
  2. Miriam K. Ehrensaft1
  3. Patricia Cohen2

  1. 1John Jay College of Criminal Justice, New York

  2. 2Columbia University, New York State Psychiatric Institute, New York
  1. Miriam K. Ehrensaft, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, 445 West 59th street, New York, NY 10019 Email:


The present study examines the quality of peer relations as a mediator between exposure to IPV (intimate partner violence) and internalizing behaviors in a sample of 129 preadolescents and adolescents (ages 10-18), who were interviewed via telephone as part of a multigenerational, prospective, longitudinal study. Relational victimization is also examined as a moderator of IPV exposure on internalizing behaviors. Results demonstrate a significant association of exposure to severe IPV and internalizing behaviors. Relational victimization is found to moderate the effects of exposure to severe IPV on internalizing behaviors. The present findings suggest that the effects of exposure to IPV had a particularly important effect on the risk for internalizing problems if the adolescent also experienced relational victimization. Conversely, the receipt of prosocial behaviors buffer against the effects of IPV exposure on internalizing symptoms in teen girls.

Ron Huxley Relates: This study simply backs up our belief that witnessing domestic violence has a negative effect on children. This article focuses specifically on teens and how one’s peer group can help to buffer those negative effects. Apparently, teen girls have reduced effects when they have a strong peer network. Perhaps all that texting is good for them? OK, maybe that goes to far but it does support another belief that group therapy, formally or informally, can help our adolescents who have been victimized in this way.