Today’s kids are experiencing a world full of trauma. Is your church trauma-informed?




In our world today, many children experience early childhood trauma. Through a lot of research, we now know that childhood trauma can affect children for the rest of their lives. ACEs too High explains in several articles and research reviews how trauma in early childhood can affect kids’ behavior and health during childhood and cause lifelong problems.

We know early trauma causes toxic stress in the brains of young children—so much so that the American Academy of Pediatrics has issued a policy statement about this issue. It encourages pediatricians to aid children who are experiencing toxic stress.

This means pediatricians need to not only check children for normal ear infections and colds and administer the typical childhood immunizations, but they also need to ask questions about home life. In essence, baby doctors have been told, “Your new job is to reduce toxic stress.”

We have schools that are becoming trauma-informed schools. They are reaching out and changing the way they work with children with challenging behaviors and teens with out-of-control behaviors.

They are going from punitive discipline to informed disciplinary measures. Instead of strict no-tolerance policies, they are developing policies of the conscious discipline of love and comfort. Without realizing it, many schools are now treating children like Jesus did in the Bible, pulling them up on His lap and comforting them.

In San Francisco at El Dorado Elementary, school administrators and teachers are rethinking and resetting their classroom discipline policies. Now in each El Dorado Elementary school, there is a “peace corner” where kids can take a break if they need to. Bean-bag chairs, books, squeeze toys, blankets, stuffed animals, windmills to blow, pencils, crayons, and paper crowd the peace corners at El Dorado. This is not a time out but simply a place to go to calm down and destress.

Why am I talking about pediatricians and elementary schools when this is a blog about churches and children of divorce?

Because the adverse childhood experience that changes children’s lives and, for many, adds layer upon layer of toxic stress is divorce. While the divorce rate is going down, the cohabitation rate is going up. When parents separate or one partner leaves, to the child, it is a divorce. It is the death of what they have known as “the family.”

Many in the church realm think the only children affected by trauma are kids who have experienced severe child abuse, neglect, poverty, a tornado, or some other act of nature. Many of us don’t think we have these children in our churches. The recent explosion of school shootings means many more children are experiencing trauma. What about those children? Even if it doesn’t happen at their school, they see it on TV and hear about it. More than likely you have those children in your groups.

I get calls, emails, texts, and Facebook messages from ministers who are experiencing out-of-control, unruly children. They are most often clueless as to what to do or how to help turn the children’s behavior around. The majority of these children have experienced the childhood trauma of divorce.

Along with the divorce, they have also experienced things children should never be exposed to. Rarely is divorce just a division of property and the assignment of a visitation schedule for kids. It is a war, and many times, ugly things happen as a result of this war.

The following are just a few situations children I know have experienced. And these are all children in churches.

  • A seven-year-old witnessed his military dad with PTSD throw his mom in the closet. When the mom was finally able to break out, the dad was kneeling with a loaded rifle aimed right at her chest
  • A six-year-old was sexually molested by his sister’s dad.
  • An eight-year-old girl was touched inappropriately by her birth dad.
  • Two elementary-age boys watched as their mom punched a hole in the wall because she was so frustrated and angry at the dad.
  • A thirteen-year-old saw sexting on her dad’s phone.
  • An eight-year-old witnessed his mom having an affair with his dad’s best friend.
  • A preschooler saw her mom repeatedly get high.

Perhaps if those of us in the religious realm could buy into adverse childhood experiences, we could develop “trauma-informed churches.” We could provide church families to support children while their own families are falling apart.

  • Make punitive discipline policies loving and positive. When a child is out of control, some churches request the child not come back for two weeks. The thinking behind this is that the parents need to help the child get under control. The trouble is, that many are single parents, and they are out of control themselves. How can they help the child?
  • Develop relationships with children. Each child should have at least one person on the child’s team whom the child can rely on to be there. In large churches that house a hundred kids in one group, this may be a challenge, but I hope you understand the importance of relationship building. If a child comes to church and doesn’t connect with at least one adult on a regular basis, how can we ever expect the child to come to a loving relationship with Jesus Christ?
  • Grandparent-like people can step up and support the children through tough times. In my own church, my husband and I have adopted a couple of little girls as our grandkids. Their grandmother passed away a couple of years ago, and some of our grandkids live far away in another state. It is a win-win for all of us.

Set up support groups that can help children become resilient. Children can only be resilient when they have a support system.

Resilience is attained and maintained through a community of caring adults that can provide at-risk children and their parents with safe, stable, and nurturing relationships. It is through attunement with a safe adult that children become resilient.”

This is only the start of developing trauma-informed churches. A start that unfortunately is necessary in our world today.


This article is updated and adapted from an article originally published on the Kids & Divorce blog on September 18, 2014.

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8 thoughts on “Today’s kids are experiencing a world full of trauma. Is your church trauma-informed?

  1. Pingback: DC4K » Got kids in trauma? Got adults with disorders? Might be a connection

  2. I am just getting involved in DC4K at First Alliance Church in Calgary, Alberta, Canada — it is a great program for helping kids to work through their trauma of going through a divorce — I became interested in this ministry as an outcome of my working as a legal assistant in a family law practice and through my work seeing what these kids go through.

  3. Pingback: Got Kids in Trauma? Got Adults with Disorders? Might Be a Connection | KidzMatter

  4. Pingback: Trauma-Informed Churches - CM Conference Notes | Children's Ministry Blog

  5. Pingback: DC4K » How traumatized children behave

  6. I’m so thankful this is now becoming more talked about and mainstream. I’ve been shocked at how ill-equipped many leaders are when it comes to this. Reframing with the proper ways to connect with the child and assist them through- not force them to meet a standard of “normal” is so valuable. It’s never about the behaviors- it’s about the child’s heart and past experience that frame how the see the rest of the world. Thank you for always leading the charge to fight for these precious ones. You’d get such a kick out of our two! ❤️

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