The new Childhood Trauma & the Brain animation from the #UKTraumaCouncil, shows what happens in the brain after children face traumatic experiences.
Approximately one-third of all mental health problems are associated with exposure to childhood trauma & adversity.
The following resources are available:


The threat system in the brain allows us to detect and respond to danger. It helps us step back instantly from a speeding car or avoid an angry dog in the park. In other words, stress and threat are a normal part of life for everyone. We all need to activate a fight-or-flight response at times to keep us safe. But abuse and neglect create a world where danger is frequent and unpredictable, and punishment can be extreme. Exposure to ongoing domestic violence, neglect, and physical abuse can lead to long-lasting changes in how the brain responds to perceived danger. This can lead to hypervigilance to threat and/or excessive avoidance.


These brain changes can lead a child to become hypervigilant, or highly alert, to threat around them. This can create a number of difficulties for children, including:
• Struggling to pay attention to other things – making it harder to learn, and develop other important skills.
• An increased intensity in their interactions with others.
• Reduced ability to regulate emotions.
• Finding everyday challenges and stressful events harder to manage than their peers.
• Increased reactivity to social rejection.
• Withdrawing or feeling anxious even in safe environments, reducing opportunities to learn new things and build relationships.
• An increased risk of symptoms of anxiety and depression.


The reward system helps us learn about positive aspects of our environment, motivates behaviour, and guides decision-making.  From the earliest years, our brain is able to learn what is rewarding and how to elicit rewards – a carer’s smile, a cuddle, as well as basic rewards such as food. Abuse and neglect create a world where rewards such as these are inconsistent or absent. This may reduce the brain’s responsiveness to rewards.


What might these brain changes in the reward system mean for a child’s everyday life? We are not yet sure of the answer.  However, scientists have suggested that changes may be associated with:
• An increased risk of depression, particularly in adolescence.
• Difficulty in successfully negotiating everyday social interactions and maintaining stable social support networks.
• Problems in reward learning – that is, learning about new sources of reward.
• Reduced motivation to pursue daily activities.
• Reduced ability to experience pleasure.


The memory system allows us to learn new things, and store information about our past to help us with new challenges in the future. All of us rely on our memory of past experiences to deal with the situations we face in our daily lives – this is our autobiographical memory. We also rely on the ability to learn associations between new things – this is our associative memory. Memory is important for our ability to plan, solve problems, make decisions, regulate our emotions and develop a positive sense of self. Experiences of neglect and physical abuse can create negative memories that can be overwhelming and also influence how we create new memories.


Scientists have speculated what the brain changes in the memory system might mean for children in their everyday lives.  They have suggested that changes may be associated with:
• Problems recalling the details of everyday positive and negative personal memories.
• Changes to emotional learning mechanisms, including how children learn about threat and reward in their environments. These changes may increase the risk of mental health problems over time.
• Difficulties with planning, making decisions and social problem solving compared to peers.
• A tendency to focus on negative memories and thoughts. This may increase the risk of developing a negative self-concept.