Insights on Childhood Trauma with Dr. Carl Weems

With the large amount of information regarding childhood trauma in both print and digital media, we at Science of Parenting took a moment to tap into our experts as way to ensure parents had valid and reliable information when it comes to the impacts of trauma and toxic stress on the developing brains of children and youth. Dr. Carl Weems, Professor and Chair, Department of Human Development and Family Studies, shared some great insight with us!

Dr. Weems shared that “Experiencing traumatic stress is common and may lead to a number of outcomes including anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder but also resilience and growth”. So if or your child have experienced traumatic stress, know that you are not alone and that it doesn’t make you “messed up”. Yes, this stress does have impact on the brain and is associated with some outcomes that are challenging, but it is also associated with RESILIENCE and GROWTH!

Dr. Weems also shared that when researchers look at how cognitive and psychological disorders “work” in the brain, they see that these disorders cannot be nailed down to one specific part of the brain but that several areas of the brain are a part of the disorder. Researchers have identified several key functional networks that may play a role in psychopathology, such as traumatic stress.  For example, he shared that the salience network is a network in the brain that is a collection of regions thought to be involved in detecting behaviorally relevant stimuli and coordinating neural resources in response.

This understanding of cognitive and psychological disorders makes sense with what Dr. Weems has studied relating to childhood trauma. He shared with us that differences in the brain’s structural connections and distributed functional networks (like the salience network) are associated with traumatic and severe early life stress.  Basically, when it comes to childhood trauma and toxic stress, we see that impacts many parts of the brain that are also the parts affected by psychological and cognitive disorders!

So you are now a parent “in-the-know” on some of the new highlights of current research around childhood trauma. If you want to explore more beyond the insights Dr. Weems shared with us, the following video clip from Resilience: The Biology of Stress may help you understand more about toxic stress and brain development.

The Science of Parenting Research page also currently highlights the impacts of Adverse Childhood Experiences

 

References

Carrión, V. G., & Weems, C. F. (2017). Neuroscience of pediatric PTSD. New York: Oxford University Press.

Menon, V. (2011). Large-scale brain networks and psychopathology: a unifying triple network model. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 15, 483–506.

Weems, C.F., Russell, J. D., Neill, E. L., & McCurdy, B. H. (Forthcoming in 2019). Pediatric Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder from a Neurodevelopmental Network Perspective. Annual Research Reviews of Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.

Weems, C. F. (2018, July 2). Personal communication.

Mackenzie Johnson

Mackenzie Johnson

Parent to a little one with her own quirks. Celebrator of the concept of raising kids “from scratch”. Learner and lover of the parent-child relationship. Translator of research with a dose of reality. Certified Family Life Educator.

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April is Child Abuse Prevention Month

Parents who did not have an ideal childhood may unknowingly be perpetuating the same traumatic experiences for their children. However, the cycle can be broken.

More than half of us grew up in families that were marked with challenges, but we don’t have to pass those experiences on to the next generation. The cycle can be broken by developing safe, stable and nurturing relationships that heal the parent and the child. The keys to success are developing healthy relationships and building resiliency.

Traumatic, or adverse, childhood experiences can include neglect as well as physical, emotional and sexual abuse. Other family issues that can contribute to a traumatic childhood include substance abuse, divorce, hunger, domestic violence, mental illness and incarceration.

Children who are exposed to many adverse childhood experiences may become overloaded with stress hormones, leaving them in a constant state of fight or flight and unable to focus. They learn adaptive and coping behaviors in response to these experiences.

This month will share research on how children respond to trauma, how to build resiliency in children and ways that communities can begin to support all children and families in reducing the incidence and impact of adverse childhood experiences.

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Mother of three. Lover of all things child development related. Fascinated by temperament and brain development. Professional background with families, child care providers, teachers and community service entities.

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What is this thing called resilience?

Once people understand what ACEs are they ask “what now?” What’s next is the idea of resiliency. Resiliency allows us to be able to move past the negative consequences of adverse childhood experiences. Resiliency allows us to have hope in the future. Our desire to create resiliency leads us to search for ways to support and help families and communities.

Three powerful ways to create support are tapping into individual capabilities, attachment and belonging with caring competent people and a protective community, faith or cultural process. We know that individuals can lead successful thriving lives despite their ACE score. These three protective factors above are why they can overcome the damage from their ACEs and lead healthy happy lives.

Explore your communities for positive supportive protective systems. What do the protective symptoms look like in your community? Are there places to grow support  your systems?

Share with us your ideas.

Don’t forget to sign up to receive a text when we post new blogs. Text the word sciparent to number 95577.

You can also share your responses with us by texting sciparent and your comments to 95577.

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Mother of three. Lover of all things child development related. Fascinated by temperament and brain development. Professional background with families, child care providers, teachers and community service entities.

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What Hand Were You Dealt? Happy or Turbulent Childhood?

Four AcesIn many ways life can be a lot like playing cards and unfortunately many of us as children were dealt a hand that was less than ideal and loaded with “ACES” or adverse childhood experiences.  The experiences of our childhoods—both the good and the not so good influence the adult we become.

From our childhood, we develop traits and skills that prepare us to be effective in the world. We also develop the capacity to adapt in the face of challenges.   We call this capacity to respond in a positive way— resiliency.  Resilience is complex; it is possible to be resilient in one setting and to do very poorly in another. It is our ability to bounce back when faced with a variety of challenges.

Research is clear that the effects of negative early childhood experiences don’t end when a child becomes an adult.   The more Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) that a child experiences, the greater the risk for health problems, mental illness, and substance abuse as an adult (Felitti et al., 1998). It can be easy to blame your childhood, to get stuck on situations and circumstances that were beyond your ability to change.  We need to learn that one cannot re-write their childhood history but writing your future and your child’s future is possible.    There is hope.  Change is possible.  Communities and families can learn to break the cycle of negative childhood experiences from one generation to the next.

All parents want a better life for their children.  But many parents are not always sure how to create a better life.  Fortunately, early childhood advocates are starting conversations to help parents achieve resiliency and develop a plan for a better life for themselves and their children.  .

There are numerous conversations starting in Iowa around the concept of adverse childhood experiences and creating a resiliency culture for adults and children alike.  I encourage you to reach out and find out what your community is doing.  Get involved!

 

Janet Smith

Janet Smith

Janet Smith is a Human Science Specialist-Family LIfe with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. She currently provides family life programming in eight counties in southeast Iowa. Janet is a "parenting survivor". She is the mother of Jared-21, Hannah-20, and Cole-15. She and her husband, David have faced many challenges together, including their son Jared's Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy diagnosis.

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Break the Cycle of Childhood Trauma

lonelinessMore than half of us grew up in families that were marked with challenges, but we don’t have to pass those experiences on to the next generation. The cycle can be broken by developing safe, stable and nurturing relationships that heal the parent and the child. The keys to success are developing healthy relationships and building resiliency.

Traumatic, or adverse, childhood experiences can include neglect as well as physical, emotional and sexual abuse. Other family issues that can contribute to a traumatic childhood include substance abuse, divorce, hunger, domestic violence, mental illness and incarceration.

Children who are exposed to many adverse childhood experiences may become overloaded with stress hormones, leaving them in a constant state of fight or flight and unable to focus. They learn adaptive and coping behaviors in response to these experiences.

This month we will discuss ways to build resiliency in children. We also will discuss ways that communities can begin to support all children and families in reducing the incidence and impact of adverse childhood experiences.

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Mother of three. Lover of all things child development related. Fascinated by temperament and brain development. Professional background with families, child care providers, teachers and community service entities.

More Posts