How Your Own Childhood Trauma Affects Your Children
How many of you are aware that childhood trauma in your life has distorted your genetic structure and DNA?
As an Early Childhood Specialist, I take ongoing training on brain development and trauma related behaviors. It is part of my role in Children’s Services in Canada.
Over the past two years, we have focused on trauma in early childhood, and the trauma of children’s parents, as children. The latest research has provided child care operators and staff a new edge in how to handle extreme behaviors in children, as well as helped to assess the developmental needs of children in their care.
The research has created a whole new perspective in the early childhood field, and it needs to be shared.
This is Your Brain:
If you have suffered trauma of any kind, in your childhood, you may be passing the genetic markers on to your own children.
Trauma marks our brains with scars, that create mutated genes that can, and most likely will, be passed on to your babies.
Think about this for a moment. If you went through trauma, such as abuse from parents, or you witnessed a traumatic event, it put a mark on your brain. Those marks are permanent, and become part of your own DNA. How crazy is that?
I will tell you my story and experience with this:
My daughter was born in 1993 (long before this enlightening research). I was abused badly as a child, and carried the trauma into adulthood, when I finally put my predators behind bars. My daughter’s dad, also suffered extreme trauma. He was in an accident in a cave and witnessed 3 of his friends die beside him. In essence, BOTH of my daughter’s parents had the distorted genes within our brains.
My daughter grew up extremely intelligent, creative, socially adapted, creative, with excellent motor skills. She excelled in reading books during her preschool years, and spoke sentences at 18 months. She was assessed as “gifted” before we put her into the school system.
Even though her dad and I saw her as a perfectly, beyond “normal” child, a discovery was made when she was 4 years old. She had a form of anxiety and had stresses that we couldn’t put our finger on. She refused to ride a bike, although she lived on her trampoline. She bowled, she swam, she was an outdoor type, who loved to explore, and she was an active child.
Prior to beginning kindergarten, I took her to see an optometrist and was beyond shocked that our daughter was diagnosed as being blind in one eye. The doctor said that she had “some” peripheral vision but zero sight looking forward. This was a life altering moment for all of us.
The catch? The flaw isn’t in her eye. She could never repair it, even with an eye transplant. The flaw, or mutation, is within her brain.
Now, nobody has ever linked mine or her father’s childhood trauma to her lack of vision, yet new evidence suggests that there is a possibility that our trauma passed the marker onto her, and it caused the damage. Is it pure coincidence? Or did our childhood trauma create a genetic code that affected our daughter’s occipital lobe? The answer may never be determined.
Culture Based Evidence
I have had the opportunity to study Indigenous groups as part of my career. One of the main focal points that my field of work researches is, are the Residential Schools that many Aboriginal and Indigenous children attended in previous generations.
The Residential Schools were reported to be operated and opened by European cultures, who abused their students by stripping them of their cultural practices and heritage. The goal with Residential Schools was to obliterate the entire race of Indigenous people and conform them into “normal society” standards.
The Indigenous students were abused, neglected, starved, sexually tortured and stripped of their tribal language and beliefs. They were not allowed to be seen as “Indians”. Over a span from 1870–1996, Residential Schools impacted a minimum of 150,00 children of Indigenous culture. The result of the abuse that these students suffered was ultimately a Cultural Genocide. Children came home to their families de-programmed and no longer able to speak in their own native tongue, and no longer accustomed to the practices, traditions or celebrations of their own culture. The children were forced to assimilate new traditions, new language, new cultures, and could no longer “look” like Indians. The teachers and principals at the schools cut all of the hair of the children’s heads, and physically abused them if they showed any signs of their heritage at school.
In looking at the effects of brain trauma, it has been identified that the students who attended these institutions suffered such deep trauma that it has been passed on through multiple generations.
One could argue that the trauma led to a lack of parenting skills, abuse of drugs and alcohol that would reflect in their children, or even deep rooted mental health issues that would corrupt a positive parenting role.
New evidence, however, identifies that the trauma is tagged as a marker in the brain. It is triggered within the amygdala, leaving scars, that become genetic coding for the next generation. It has also been identified that it will take approximately 7 generations until the damaged gene can be halted, and no longer affecting infants- that is ONLY if the proper amount of mental support and therapy can be provided to the next 4 generations.
If you think about that for a moment, the marked gene, from childhood trauma, will last potentially over 200 years.
This causes a realization, that ONE abusive person, who creates abusive trauma within a child’s life, causes a ripple effect that goes well beyond the life of the abuse victim. That is an astounding repercussion.
When we look at culture based trauma, and how it affects the next generations of children, it becomes evident that it is not JUST the child who suffers, but their children, the next children, and ultimately it can corrupt the whole of their cultivated civilization, such as the Indigenous groups.
Children With Trauma Marked Brains
In my field of work, I see daycare programs, out of school care facilities and preschools, daily. In our world, we have seen a dramatic increase in children “with behaviors”.
We receive regular phone calls from child care programs asking advice or looking for supports before they make the decision to terminate a child’s care.
There are TWO major concerns in these situations:
- The child is most likely “behavioral” because of a root problem or trauma at home. Program staff don’t always take the time to get to know what a child is dealing with at home because they are too busy with large groups of children. It is often overlooked when a child suffers trauma or is struggling with mental health issues, and they become labeled as “Behavioral”. The catch all lately, is to have the child “assessed” and the hope is that the results are that he/she is “on the spectrum” or can be named with ADHD or the like. Trauma from abuse, or struggles with anything from the death of a pet, or family member, to a divorce of the child’s parents. The other possibility is that the child has a marked brain or genetic code, because of trauma his/her parents suffered as children.
- Children who exhibit behaviors and are terminated from child care suffer further trauma. Think about this in adult terms; you go to your job and everyone resents you because you are disruptive. You know that you have your own social anxiety and issues, but you can’t communicate them, so you act out. Your boss fires you and you find a new job. That job is no better, and you STILL have your social anxieties, but they have only become worse, because you felt rejected at your last job. The same goes for children. Yes, it is easier for a child care staff to kick a child out of a program, as it makes the environment “easier”. But that same child will suffer more trauma, trying to fit in and conform to a new child care program. His/her anxiety and trauma will only worsen. At some point, the child’s root problem, which causes the behavior needs to be looked at, in order for that child to obtain the support and help that is needed. Trauma can look very different from child to child, and family to family. It is critical for child care staff to learn about the effects of trauma in a child’s life, or to ask the probing questions to find the source of the behavior.
What a Trauma Marked Child Needs
In a word, a child who has suffered first or second hand from trauma, needs COMPASSION.
They also need a role model, mentor, or care giver to take the time to look for the root of a child’s issues, rather than making efforts to “stop” the behavior. This becomes a vicious circle in child care environments and schools.
Adults tend to react to a child’s strong behaviors, rather than be proactive and work with the families, practitioners, or other support systems. In short, children who exhibit trauma related behaviors need understanding and help. The behaviors will not simply go away, by reacting with punishments or discipline.
Chances are, that child is carrying a genetic code in his/her brain that can be worked with. By all intents and purposes, being proactive and helping to understand the child’s developmental needs, could potentially save the child’s future generations.
One thing that the Residential Schools have taught us, is that trauma, especially by abuse, leads to a plethora of residual developmental needs being unmet. In return, not meeting those needs can lead to addiction, mental health disorders, future abuse, and often suicide.
Teaching staff, child care staff, parents, family, therapists, spiritual guidance, and other support systems in a child’s life, can work together to help heal the traumatic mark in a child’s brain, or at minimum, to help a child to self solve or self soothe the marked trauma code.
Often it takes an entire village to help to mend past trauma, but in the end, you could be saving future children and following generations from carrying the same genetic scarring.
A “set pattern” of genetic marking or scars has yet to be determined when it comes to childhood trauma and how it affects following generations. However, it has been researched and deduced that childhood trauma DOES impact the brain of a child who is affected, causing an imprint that could cause genetic damage. It never looks the same from one child to the next, or from one trauma sufferer to the next.
The point is, is that trans-generational trauma is real, and can only be truly diagnosed if the signs and symptoms are recognized.
PTSD from parents or grandparents can mark generations, as does abuse, mental health disorders such as anxiety or depression, or other traumatic events that are not addressed on a developmentally appropriate level.
When we observe children, especially in early childhood, it is imperative to address behaviors that raise questions. If a child displays inappropriate behaviors, languages, actions, or lack of development, getting to the root of the concern may not just save that child from a future of struggles, but it could potentially save the next generations of that child’s scarred trauma mark.
Underestimating or labeling a child because of the behavior that they exhibit is NOT developmentally appropriate for any child. As child care professionals, parents and child practitioners, it is our obligation to get to the core of the child’s struggles, and be proactive in helping the child to learn coping mechanisms and skills, to help repair the scar in the child’s brain.
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