When children are exposed to early, complex, and/or long-term trauma, their brains can become wired for self-protection. Often, it makes them feel responsible for taking care of themselves. This focus on survival and controlling one’s environment can affect the natural progression through the developmental stages, impacting conscience development and empathy for others.


Children often internalize early adverse experiences. It results in a feeling there must be something wrong with them that caused the events to occur in the first place. This can profoundly impact a child’s self-concept and self-esteem and leave them with intense feelings of shame, hopelessness, and helplessness.


If you observe some of the following behaviors, the child you are working with may have a history of disrupted attachment or complex childhood trauma.  


  •   Lack of ability to give and receive affection,
  • Withdrawal
  • Superficial attractiveness and friendliness with strangers, indiscriminate affection
  • Self-destructive behavior, self-injury 
  • Cruelty to others, aggression
  •  Lack of trust in others
  • Extreme control problems
  •  Lack of long-term childhood friends 
  • Abnormalities in eye contact
    • Good eye contact when lying and poor eye contact when telling the truth.
  • Preoccupation with blood, fire, and gore
    • Possibly due to deeply repressed infantile rage that is unresolved and remains hidden.
  • Excessive lying (lying when the truth is obvious) 
  • Constant chattering and/or questions
  • Unhealthy sexual behaviors
  • Stealing, hoarding, and gorging on food 
  • Substance Abuse
  • Lack of and/or altered cause and effect thinking
    •  “If I trust adults, bad things will happen.”
  •  Hypervigilance, high arousal
    • They are attentive to everything in their environment to keep themselves safe (often presents like ADHD).


*Adapted from Foster Cline, M.D., and Michael Orlans and Terry Levy Healing Parents.


To learn more and what to do about it, watch our podcast My Friend is Super Rude! The Impact of Trauma, Attachment and Survival. Take a live course  or an on demand course or purchase our book “Healing Discipline: Bringing Hope to Shattered Lives, A Guide for Educators.” or our book Raising Babies. We are also happy to discuss any questions or concerns you might have via phone or email.  You can contact us at 1-888-311-1883 or email us at 

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