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Trauma-Informed Early Childhood Education (ECE)

Early childhood trauma is any frightening or distressing experience that a child has had during the ages of 0 to 6 years. It can occur when children are exposed to outside danger, such as a natural disaster, car accident or school shooting, or when they witness violence in their community or family. Children may also experience trauma when they have experienced abuse or the death of a loved one. This trauma can affect the body, mind and emotional development and can cause problems throughout a person’s life.

Studies show that a combination of factors are related to the onset and severity of trauma in young children. Early trauma can lead to higher rates of mental health and substance use disorders later in life, including depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, poorer academic performance and maladaptive coping skills. It can also increase the likelihood of physical health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and obesity.

Research shows that the impact of trauma in childhood can be mitigated if it is addressed quickly and effectively with support from caring adults. In fact, there is a growing national movement to provide early childhood care that includes trauma-informed practices in the classroom and in home settings. There are several evidence-based interventions that can be used in ECE settings to help reduce trauma and build resilience, many of which were highlighted in a recent report on the state of the science on early childhood trauma.

Some of these include:

Provide supportive environments for children to express their emotions and reactions to the traumatic event. Reassure children that they are safe and they will not be hurt again. Reassure children that their fears are normal and understand that they may be afraid to talk about their feelings. Encourage them to get enough sleep and eat well. Provide opportunities for them to be physically active and socialize with other children. Limit the viewing of repetitive news reports about the traumatic event.

Offer guidance to parents/caregivers after a traumatic event. Provide information on what to do and where to go for help (e.g., local crisis centers, community organizations). Provide training for ECE staff on child trauma and resiliency strategies.

Support a trauma-informed healthcare system by developing ACE screening and response protocols and providing specialized clinical services, such as nurse case management.

Make early childhood trauma awareness a part of the public conversation by creating accessible, evidence-based information. This will allow people from all backgrounds to participate in a productive and equitable conversation without being stalled by misinformation or jargon. For example, the Trauma CoIN has an online wiki with resources on child trauma that is easy for anyone to access and share. This will help create a sustainable movement towards preventing and responding to early childhood trauma.

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