Scéalta – The Early Childhood Ireland Blog

< Back to Blog

Trauma Sensitive Early Childhood Care and Education


Monday 20 July 2020

Early childhood adversity is a topic that is widely covered in the literature and in initial practitioner education.However, until recently the topic of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) has been less well covered.The World Health Organisation’s recognition of ACEs as a major public health challenge has raised awareness and as a result, societal change is happening with more ECEC practitioners becoming trauma sensitive, while the demand for training has also increased. Fundamentally, while ACEs are deemed a major public health challenge, they also have the potential to be largely resolved by appropriate prevention and intervention.


Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) is a term coined by researchers, Vincent Felitti, Robert Anda, and their colleagues, in their study conducted from 1995 to 1997. ACEs refer to  traumatic experiences in a person’s life occurring before the age of 18. These include:

  • experiencing violence, abuse, or neglect;
  • witnessing violence in the home or community;
  • having a family member attempt or die by suicide.

In addition, aspects of the child’s environment that can challenge their sense of safety are also identified and include children’s experiences of

  • substance misuse;
  • mental health problems;
  • instability due to parental separation or incarceration of a parent, sibling or other member of the household


How Common?

Unfortunately, ACEs are common and in the general population many of us will have experienced at least one ACE. Notably, ACEs do not discriminate and occur across all cultural, racial and economic groups. Despite this prevalence, 60% of teachers have no relevant training on the needs of children who have experienced trauma (Speck, 2019). For those working in the ECEC profession, the number may be significantly higher.


ACES, Trauma, the Brain, and Development

For children impacted by trauma, their bodies and brains are primed for physiological state of fear and survival (Jedd et al., 2015). As a result, they tend to perceive certain situations as threatening and respond accordingly in a state of fight, flight or freeze. Consequently, children with trauma history can see a situation, such as a transition, as a threat to their safety.  Toxic stress profoundly alters the development of a child’s brain; it affects the immune system, with research showing a correlation between early adversity and poorer outcomes later in life.


Our Default is Trauma-Sensitive

Offering child centered quality care and education is what we do best. As ECEC teachers, we create early learning environments that are predictable, we provide consistent care, and promote responsive relationships and feelings of physical and emotional safety - all the requisites for trauma-sensitive learning environments. High quality ECEC experiences are rooted in empathy, compassion, and validation of children’s lived experiences, as is a trauma-sensitive approach. However, a trauma-sensitive approach also means understanding three things.

  1. It means understanding the prevalence and impact of trauma and ACEs.
  2. It means understanding the role trauma plays in people lives.
  3. And most importantly, it means understanding that any healing from trauma can only come from responsive relationships.

 For those interested in trauma-sensitive approaches think about:

  1. Committing to learning about trauma and its impact. Any outbursts/meltdowns are understood as reflexive attempts made by the child to feel safe in what they perceive as a dangerous world.
  1. Listen to the child without interrupting and listen without judgement.
  1. A trauma-informed approach asks ‘What happened to you?’ not ‘What is wrong with you?’ (Bloom & Farragher, 2013, p. 7).
  1. Be sincerely emphatic. Use short statements such as like “you have every right to feel angry/sad/cross.”
  1. Transitions are huge stressors for children with trauma history. Transitions signal uncertainty/change, potentially unsafe situations, and potentially the loss of reliable relationships. Create predictable transitions. Build routine around transitions. The following transitions may be particularly difficult for children who have trauma history.
  • Beginning or end of the day;
  • Horizontal transitions e.g. moving from one activity to another;
  • End of year vertical transitions e.g. moving on from toddler group to preschool, moving from preschool to junior infants etc.

Scaffold these transitions by engaging in regulating activities (such as reading, singing, freeze dance, breathing buddies or blowing imaginary candles out on our fingertips) can all help to soothe the amygdala-the alarm centre of the brain.

  1. Recognise publicly and redirect behaviour privately, and always in a calm voice/tone. ‘Catch’ children doing good: “I really like the way ….”
  1. Always greet the children with a smile. Yours might be the only smile they see that day. Be kinder than you have to. Joy is given and received through spreading unexpected kindness.
  1. Days, dates, and celebratory holidays that signal fun for many children can be difficult for children who have experienced trauma. For example, for some, weekends may mean higher alcohol consumption in the home and more domestic violence.
  1. Relationship-based approaches are central to healing. Connections with caring adults who are positive role models are essential and can improve future outcomes. Be the buffer!
  1. We want the child to internalise many positive beliefs about themselves. We need to reinforce that they are loved, valued, and respected and especially when they are feeling very strong emotions.



Dr Judith Butler is a researcher and lecturer in Early Childhood Education and Care at Cork Institute of Technology. Judith supervises postgraduate research and is currently involved in trauma research. Judith’s research interests include; the social domain of children’s development and in particular, social competence, relationships and the impact of positive and adverse childhood experiences on children and their families. Judith has vast experience working with and on behalf of children. She is  an Editor of An Leanbh Óg: The Irish Journal of Early Childhood Studies. Judith is the President of OMEP Ireland and is a member of the scientific committee of World OMEP.  Judith can be contacted at or on twitter @Dr__Jude

0 comments Comments

Leave a Reply

Please Log In to comment:

Traffic Lights(1) Xbox(1) Exploring(1) Academics(1) Yoga(1) Shoes(1) Learning Journal(2) youdoodle(1) Together Old and Young Programme(1) Creative(1) Plants(1) National Holiday(1) meals(3) Opportunities(1) Awards 2018(3) Growing up Outdoors(1) early years settings(1) blog(53) Siolta blog(8) Covid19 crisis(1) First 5 strategy(1) Lego(2) CPD(1) Behaviour(3) Limerick(1) christmas(9) preschool settings(1) Early Years(1) memories(1) Motor neuron disease(1) baby room(1) Irish Childhood Bereavement Network(1) Arithmetic(1) early childhood(1) Maynooth(1) Challenges(1) Super Shed Stories(2) Reflective Practice(1) Looking Back(1) Reggio Children Network(1) College(1) Early Years Educators(3) Infection Control(1) UN Sustainable Development Goals(1) Margy Whalley(1) Capable(1) ICBN(1) Leaders in Practice(1) phone apps(1) Time(1) Universal Design(2) EECERA 2016(1) Snack Time(1) Mixed age groups(3) Support(1) linc(1) learning bias(1) imotion(1) Death(2) Fabric(1) value(1) Pre-School Services(1) Halloween(2) Learning journals(1) STEM(3) Awards Night(1) Funding(1) children development(1) planning(1) Blocks(1) aistear blog(3) Infectious diseases(1) outdoor play(6) Playschool(1) racism(1) Story(2) Teamwork(1) quarantine(1) Kilkenny(1) Pobal(1) Reopening Childcare(1) The Jelly King(1) Leadership(1) ECIAwards20(1) Child mental health(1) animals(2) child-centric(1) Book Review(1) Christmas Creativity(2) curriculum(5) Wonder(1) Cork Institute of Technology(1) Whole Group(1) Leprechauns(1) learning(19) Traditions(2) dogs(1) Partnership with Families Innovation Award(2) Potential(1) toddlers(3) Your place(1) Arlene Forster(1) EECERA(1) Summer(1) Engineering Ireland(1) code of ethics(1) Seas Suas(1) The Lullaby Book(1) Early Childhood Care and Education(2) Research and Professional Learning(1) development(8) Leadership for INClusion in the Early Years(1) Minister Katherine Zappone(1) Interests(1) continual professional development(1) Early Learning and Care Centres(1) Mud kitchens(1) research submissions(1) Inter-generational learning(2) developing motor skills(1) EM Standing(1) an post(1) Mathematicians(1) Employee(1) National Annual Awards 2020(1) Document Learning(1) Jillian van Turnhout(1) TOY Programme(1) conference(1) MA(1) Anthony Semann(1) Treasure Chest(1) Wilenski(1) Degree(1) Trauma-Sensitive(1) listen(1) play pods(2) Early Learning and Care(1) National Early Childhood Research Conference(1) Maternity Leave(1) Early Years Education(1) dining(1) Orla Kenny(1) Anxiety(2) Adoption(1) listening(1) Effect of Lockdown(1) IGL(1) Communications(1) Impact(1) Trick or treat(1) Nutrition(1) UN(1) COVID-19 Reopening(2) interacting(2) ECEC(3) Sleep(1) Visual Impairment(1) early life(1) Advocacy(1) Independence(1) Administrative Burden(1) Art(6) Role play(1) Staff Motivation(1) Upcycling(1) documentation(4) Social Skills(1) ECEC Setting(2) Valerie Gaynor(1) Magnavacchi(1) Grief(1) ReCreate(2) play pod(1) purpose(1) emotions(2) Emergent Curriculum(1) Italy(1) mushrooms(1) Valentine's Day(3) transitions(10) Maths(6) democracy(1) Consent(1) Kindness Challenge(1) Bereavement(2) Gratitude(1) Confident(1) Kids Own(1) Norway(2) Department of Education and Skills(1) Dr Mary O'Kane(1) man up(1) creche(1) Celebrate(1) community(5) Aistear(130) Children's Research Network(1) primary education(1) Academic Skills(1) multi-generational community(1) Department of Children and Youth Affairs(2) Mealtimes(1) Sociodramatic play(1) Names(1) Breathing(2) Twitter(1) Iraq(1) Montessori & Early Childhood Professionals Ireland(1) Flowers(1) reopening(1) healthy eating policies(1) Educators(2) National Childcare Scheme(1) Providing Leadership to the First 5(1) Sculptures(1) SPICE Framework(1) Party(1) Wendy Lee(3) Celebrations(4) Playdough(1) early years research(2) Snakes(1) New Appointments(1) Little Buddies(1) social media policy(1) Inter-generational(2) COVID-19(14) Prexit(1) National Awards 2019(1) Workplace well-being(1) Fee Play(1) curiosity(3) Pedagogical leaders(1) Aistear Siolta in Action(1) educating(1) Giraffe(2) Drawing(2) First 5 transitions for children award(1) collaboration(1) experience(1) Irish guidelines(1) dublin(2) Through the looking glass(1) Self Help Skills(1) GoToMeeting app(1) Map(1) Identity(5) Universal Design Guidelines(1) family time(1) grandchild(1) Painting(1) Pretend Play(1) Magic(1) Favouritism(1) Children's Voice(1) Research Conference 2019(1) Learning Story(1) Santa(2) Pedagogy(2) Syria(1) Pen green(1) Cognitive development(1) maternity health(1) Settling in(4) Meet the Members(1) iOS(1) Snacks(1) structure(1) Training(2) CIT(1) Biting(1) School Age Childcare(1) Care routines(1) Interaction(1) COVID-19 landscape(1) Family(1) Design(1) play stories(2) Wesco(1) annual conference(1) Aistear Siolta Practice Guide(1) feisty(1) Obesity(1) Graduation(1) reopening ireland(1) outdoor space(3) Our Little Seed(1) Irish Early Years Research & Practice Seminar 2018(1) The Play and Learning in the Early Years(1) PIP(1) Frosty the Snowman(1) Stress(2) risky play(2) University(1) Primary School(3) Confidence(1) risk assessment(1) Budget 2019(2) European Early Childhood Education Research Association(2) Laughter(1) play therapy(1) Meal time(1) San Miniato(4) journey(1) june29(1) Educator - Leader in Practice Award(1) dining experiences(1) Mo Scéal(1) St. Patrick's Day(1) Mount Everest(1) outdoor environment(1) Youtube Series(1) pablo(1) outdoors(4) Interactions(3) learning hub(1) educarer(1) DCYA(6) eating(1) trust(4) Digital(1) mental health problems(1) Tuscan Approach(2) Running(1) Masterclass(2) Montessori(3) environments(1) behavioural science(1) movement behaviours(1) Self-Esteem(1) science(3) Childhood(1) pets(1) Easter(1) Rich Documentation(1) responsive relationships(1) Trade Unions(1) inspiring interactions(1) science week(2) NAEYC(1) Trigonometry(1) ears(1) Weather(1) AsIAm(2) Irish(1) Sustainability(3) emotional environment(2) awards 2020(1) Albert Einstein(1) COVID-19 crisis(1) Learning Stories Award(3) National Pyjama Day(1) Certificate(1) Penguins(1) babies(7) Maths Week Ireland(1) Reading Time(1) Early Childhood Ireland’s National Early Childhood Research Conference 2019(1) ELC(1) overhear(1) Appreciation(1) Performance Management(1) Quality(4) Music(3) Exploratory Play(1) Relaxation(1) Workforce(1) National Bereaved Children's Awareness Week(1) childcare services(1) RTE Investigates(1) social media(2) Gardening(1) Toby Bears Camping Trip(1) early childhood educator(2) preschool(4) Laugh(1) Dance(1) playleader(1) Exclusion(1) Socioemotional development(1) Feeding(1) ERASMUS+(3) Thinking(1) Scents(1) Special Needs Assistants(1) Seanchaí(1) Minister for Children and Youth Affairs(1) Small World Play(1) Loving Relationships(2) National Council for Curriculum and Assessment(1) Síolta QAP(1) gender stereotype(1) Nuturing interactions(1) CCTV(1) AIM(2) Inspiring Practice(1) Early Childhood Ireland National Awards(2) Well-Being(10) Inspirational(2) Children(4) Thanks(1) risk(2) Annual Conference 2019(1) Culture(2) RIE philosphy(1) Photographs(1) Titles(1) Growing up in Ireland(3) scéalta(56) Policy(2) education(2) Qualifications(1) Covid response(2) General Data Protection Regulation(1) Online(1) Maria Montessori(1) Ceremony(1) respect(5) Afghanistan(1) peer group(1) Inspired Practice Award(6) Engineering(3) Participation(2) life long learning(1) Decisions(1) Early Childhood Ireland(10) play(35) Educator of the Year Award(3) Competent(1) UD(1) Intention(1) Buddies(1) Looking Forward(1) Exploring and Thinking(1) annual awards(1) friendships(1) Malaguzzi(1) Family wall(1) Storytelling(7) Smiles(1) Budget 2018(1) Home Corner(1) food(1) Recycle(1) INTO(1) Human Resources(1) Scéalta Book Review(1) Awards(2) Autism(4) Maths Week(1) Trade union(1) keep in touch(1) Counting(1) Mindfulness(3) First 5(1) Policy and Implementation Panel(1) education system(1) Kindness(1) lockdown(1) Window(1) social science(1) Digital Devices(1) Games(1) Empathy(1) Vietnam(1) Learning Story Awards(2) Reggio(1) Graduate(1) Communicating(1) Ariana Pucci(1) Recycling(2) Performing(1) Wrapping paper(1) Fantasy play(1) Community involvement(1) Technology(3) Visitors(1) Maynooth University(2) Event Guide(1) Arts(1) Eritrea(1) LINC Award for Leadership in Inclusion(2) Study Trip(1) Craft(1) Oireachtas(1) Professionalisation(5) online training(1) Budget 2020(1) communication(4) Access and Inclusion Model(2) children’s learning(1) Children and families(1) Diversity(1) Annual Conference 2017(2) Winter(1) books(4) reading(5) Horizon 2020(1) routine(2) Touch(1) refugees(1) bonds(1) Routines(2) GDPR(1) apps for children(1) bloom app(1) Awards 2019(1) Dr. Emer Ring(1) UNCRC(2) Exit interview(1) Mantra(1) Body Language(1) Brain(1) learners(1) Nonverbal(1) budget(1) Glitter(2) Engineers Week(2) emotional well-being(1) International Narratives(1) Loss(1) Sessional service(1) stories(3) Equality(1) Jenga(1) Research Seminar(1) code of professional responsibility(1) Covid pandemic(2) Frustrations(1) Change(1) keezy(1) Iceland(1) Investment(2) Buddy Bench(1) World Health Organisation(1) Treasure(1) Facebook(1) Creativity(6) Workplace Relations(3) Queues(1) Elders(1) United Nations(1) relationships(18) Hand Hygiene(2) under 3's(3) child-centred approach(1) worries(1) Plastic(1) Health(2) Inspections(1) Book Club(2) staying connected(1) Children's Rights(3) Online Research Symposium(1) Line-ups(1) ECCE(7) early years learning(1) parents(6) Spiders(1) Light table(1) Supernanny(1) Síolta(137) Mental Health(4) Proceedings Journal(1) Large Doll Play(1) Return to Work Training(1) Reggio Emilia(2) democratic citizens(1) Affordability(1) SAC(1) Equality & Inclusion Guidelines Training(1) Sweets(1) Rising to the Challenge(2) HR(1) Love(3) Identity and Belonging(4) Child Care(1) gender bias(1) National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education(1) story time(2) European Project(1) Early Childhood Education(1) Patterns(1) Builders(1) UNICEF report(1) Self-regulation(1) supportive environments(2) Mark Twain(1) National Research Conference 2019(1) Cork(1) Deirdre Rogers(1) Positivity(1) Rituals(1) Adverse Childhood Experiences(1) Imagination(3) Sport(1) Belonging(3) Covid-19 lockdown(1) MECPI(1) art of the relationship(1) Scéalta Blog(104) Aldo Fortunati(4) Liz Kerrins(1) Sequins(1) Educator Award - Leader in Practice(1) NCCA(3) Environment(2) DES Inspection(1) Magda Gerber(1) Leargas(1) Care-giving routines(1) Decision Making(1) Building Resilience(1) Learning through Storytelling(1) National Awards 2018(2) Time Out(1) Vivian Gussin Paley(1) Shapes(2) Childcare(3) Childcare Barometer 2018(1) Kerry(1) Sustainable(1) show and tell(1) Síolta Quality Assurance programme(1) Pobal sector profile(1) role playing(1) Learning Stories(9) Mayo(1) Engagement(1) Inclusion(3) conversations(1) Japan(1) E.coli(1) Exercise(1) coronavirus(1) TRAP(1) Inspired Practice Awards(1) Vertical grouping(1) research(6) Thank you(1)


Site maintained and developed by Cloud Nine