Complex Trauma

What is complex trauma?

Complex trauma is early on repeated experiences in development. This trauma is a presents itself as PTSD but may not be as responsive to typical treatment for PTSD because it is very difficult to diagnosed a child with complex trauma.

Why is it’s significance?

Complex trauma Inhibits the neural system’s ability to return to normal but changes the system to appear like one that is always anticipating or responding to trauma.

Symptoms (often times occurs when a child is anticipating or believe that the trauma is reacuring):

-Poor concentration

-Poor attention

-Poor judgement

-Highly Reactive

-Responds to threat if not present

-Fight, flight, freeze

What does fight flight freeze look like?

Fight is seen as the aggressive reaction where the child may physically, and or verbally lash out.

Flight can present itself as a child fleeing a situation.

Freeze is often shown by the child not speaking, or moving. A child may be moving from shaking, crying, irregularly breathing but will not move places.

Effective treatment:

-Day to day collaboration with adults present in child’s life

-Preventative programs for parents who are at risk of not being able to provide for their child

-Trauma focused therapies (here is a link to distinguish the purpose of each trauma focused therapy: )

-Art therapy


Things that can be done as an educator:

-Recognize when a child is experiencing symptoms of trauma, and respond compassionately

-Create a routine classroom with predictable transitions

-Be cautious of what the trauma comes from and adapt your practice (ex: be cautious of discussing certain topics, consider rules of physical boundaries in classroom like asking before giving a friend a hug).

-Have a safety plan for the child (ex: a safe space for the child to go through when experiencing symptoms)

-Take care of yourself, and remember there are people to support you in your school!



2 Replies to “Complex Trauma”

  1. I really enjoyed this post! I think it’s so easy for people to make assumptions about a student if they aren’t participating or are not engaged. Some times it’s really hard to tell or know if a child has had something really traumatic happen to them unless another teacher has mentioned something to you. This post really helped me keep in mind that sometimes a students reaction to something is just a scratch of the surface. Fight, flight, and freeze – I’ve never heard of this before! Thanks for sharing. As emerging teachers I think this is super important to know


  2. Thank you for this post! I am very much looking forward to learning more about the topic of complex trauma and what that means for students and educators. This is a subject I don’t know much about, but being in a school that deals a lot with trauma, I feel like this information will be very beneficial to my practice. Looking forward to exploring the rest of the resources you shared!

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