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



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

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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