Emotional concussions can be just as lethal, and sometimes even more so, than a physical concussion


Have you ever considered the term emotional concussion? Have you ever thought about what might be involved in an emotional concussion?

Emotional concussions occur when young children

  • Live in homes controlled by alcohol, drugs, explosive tempers
  • Live in homes full of stress
  • Live with dysfunctional adults
  • Have exposure to people who are physically, emotionally, and/or sexually abusive
  • Experience the divorce of their parents

From the ACEs Too High website we find,

“The life-in-dysfunction emotional concussion is a day-in-day-out brain bludgeoning by stress-induced hormones of adrenaline and cortisol.  It wires developing brains for flight, fight or freeze. It can set people up to pass on the family legacy of dysfunction.”

Very few people pay any attention to the emotional concussions our kids are saddled with on a daily basis. Even though the kids who live in the middle of these battlefields and are injured emotionally everyday of their young lives, most of their cries go unheard.

Checking for concussions

Unlike a physical concussion where a coach or someone checks a child’s pupils to see if they are dilated, holds up two or three fingers to make sure the kid isn’t seeing double, and asks them a few questions to make sure the child is cognizant, no one checks the kid who has an emotional concussion. There is no concern that the child has another new dad in the home. No one checks to see if the child is home alone late into the night because mom has to work two jobs to make ends meet. No one notices it is the same kid who is in trouble all the time.

Also, unlike a physical concussion where a kid is taken out of the game and must have a doctor’s permission to return, a child with an emotional concussion is sent right back into the emotional mayhem. There are no do overs or time outs for these kids. Most of them have no coach or outside adult who will oversee their wounds. Mostly, they are just patted on the head, told to stop their unruly behavior, get themselves straightened up and get back in the game.

Many children of divorce have emotional concussions. And, like physical concussions can run the gambit of being light or severe. For the child of divorce who has a support system and concerned adults outside the home they will not have a severe emotional concussion.

For kids who have warring parents, no support system outside the home and are stuck right in the middle of the war zone, their emotional concussion is more severe. Some kids will never completely recover and will carry the scars of the emotional concussion with them for the rest of their lives. It will affect everything they attempt to do.

What can we do?

Children with emotional concussions need the church to step up and love on them. They need a safe haven where they can rest, relax and get a dose of Biblical truths to help heal their souls. The children need adults who will say to themselves, “Hey, she is not giving  me a hard time. She is having a hard time.” or “He is so out of control today!” but “Gee, I wonder what happened to him this morning.” It is a mind-set change for the adult and a helping tool for the child. It gives the adult an empathetic feeling toward the child and believe me these kids are intuitive and they notice the change in your attitude toward them.

These kids need help controlling their emotions and their behaviors. From Kidlutions we read,

“The more out of control a child gets, the more she looks to us to demonstrate a sense of calm.  When our behavior starts to mirror that of the child who is on a slippery slope to emotional mayhem, there is little hope left to assist her.” Think about that statement. Does your behavior mirror that of the child? No? What about loud voices? What about angry faces? What about the stance where your arms are folded across your chest? Even the rolled-eye exchange between the adults in the room says to the child you are mimicking them.

While there are no quick evaluations such as holding up three fingers to see if the child with an emotional concussion is seeing straight, we can be there for the child. We can be interested in their lives outside the church. We can offer hope and encouragement. We can remember scriptures that speak to such things as hope.

“Hope deferred makes a heart sick…” Proverbs 13:12

In the long run, emotional concussions can be just as severe as a physical concussion. They can leave a child crippled emotionally for the rest of their lives.

The long-term damage emotional concussions 

Emotional concussions cause a lot of damage to a child. Many become dysfunctional early on and carry that dysfunction into their adult lives. As teens they may

  • Contemplate or succeed in committing suicide
  • Get involved in drugs
  • Become alcoholics
  • Become active sexually early on and end up as pregnant teens
  • Become cutters
  • Bully other kids
  • Drop out of school

My friend Robyn Besemann who developed the curriculum, Chained No More, for the adult children of divorce/childhood brokenness, says,  “I see this almost every day in ministry, whether they are young kids, teens or the adult kids of divorce. The chaos in families surrounds and permeates a child and there is little relief at home. When they leave the house, that chaos follows them. I agree that the church can be a haven, but workers need to be educated in childhood traumas, such as the child of divorce, to be able to minister effectively to these little souls.”


This article is updated and adapted from an article originally published on the Kids & Divorce blog on Feb 5, 2015.

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