Skip to main content

Creating Supportive Environments for Children Who have had Exposure to Traumatic Events


The prevalence of trauma among young children and its impact on educational outcomes is gaining attention. It is probable that the needs of children who have experienced or been exposed to trauma have long gone unmet due to identification challenges and a lack of knowledge concerning best practices. For this study, qualitative interviews were conducted to gather perspectives of 14 community-based service providers who worked with children and families regarding trauma-related concerns. Each shared his or her perspectives on knowledge and skills early childhood education teachers need to support children who have experienced traumatic events and partner with their families. Research questions were: What should early childhood teachers know about (1) trauma experiences among young children; (2) the emotional and behavioral patterns of children who have experienced traumatic events; and (3) supporting the social and emotional well-being of children in the classroom setting, including partnering with families, who have experienced or been exposed to traumatic events? Participants indicated that teachers might not readily connect children’s behaviors and emotions to trauma. However, teachers can use approaches and strategies (e.g., being attuned and supporting positive social and emotional and communicative responses) that promote social and emotional well-being for children who experience trauma. Participants also noted that teachers can resist re-traumatization by making adaptations to social, physical, and temporal aspects of the classroom environment. Findings indicate that trauma-informed care might be viable in early childhood classroom settings. Implications for research are discussed.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  • Administration for Children and Families (2015). Child Maltreatment 2013. Available from

  • American Academy of Pediatrics (2014). The Medical Home Approach to Identifying and Responding to Exposure to Trauma.

  • American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: Author.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • American Psychological Association (2013). Trauma. American Psychological Association.

  • Blaustein, M., & Kinniburgh, K. (2010). Treating traumatic stress in children and adolescents: How to foster resilience through attachment, self-regulation, and competency. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Brantlinger, E., Jimenez, R., Klingner, J., Pugach, M., & Richardson, V. (2005). Qualitative studies in special education. Exceptional Children, 71, 195–207.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Briggs-Gowan, M. J., Carter, A. S., & Ford, J. D. (2012). Parsing the effects violence exposure in early childhood: Modeling developmental pathways. Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 37, 11–22.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Briggs‐Gowan, M. J., Ford, J. D., Fraleigh, L., McCarthy, K., & Carter, A. S. (2010). Prevalence of exposure to potentially traumatic events in a healthy birth cohort of very young children in the northeastern United States. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 23, 725–733.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Chafouleas, S. M., Johnson, A. H., Overstreet, S., & Santos, N. M. (2016). Toward a blueprint for trauma-informed service delivery in schools. School Mental Health, 8(1), 144–162.

  • Creswell, J. W. (2013). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  • Cummings, K. P. (2016). Supporting parent engagement in programme-wide behavioural intervention implementation. Early Child Development and Care. Advance online publication. doi:10.1080/03004430.2016.1177042.

  • De Young, A. C., Kenardy, J. A., & Cobham, V. E. (2011). Trauma in early childhood: A neglected population. Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, 14, 231–250.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Finkelhor, D., Ormrod, R. K., Turner, H. A., Avery-Leaf, S., Cascardi, M., O’Leary, K. D., & Cuevas, C. (2007). Polyvictimization and trauma in a national longitudinal cohort. Development and Psychopathology, 19, 149–166.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Guest, G., Bunce, A., & Johnson, L. (2006). How many interviews are enough? An experiment with data saturation and variability. Field Methods, 18(1), 59–82.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Han, H. S. (2014). Supporting early childhood teachers to promote children’s social competence: Components for best professional development practices. Early Childhood Education Journal, 42, 171–179.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hemmeter, M. L., Ostrosky, M., & Fox, L. (2006). Social and emotional foundations for early learning: A conceptual model for intervention. School Psychology Review, 35, 583–601.

    Google Scholar 

  • Holmes, C., Levy, M., Smith, A., Pinne, S., & Neese, P. (2015). A model for creating a supportive trauma-informed culture for children in preschool settings. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 24, 1650–1659.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Huang, L., Macbeth, G., Dodge, J., & Jacobstein, D. (2004). Transforming the workforce in children’s mental health. Administration and Policy in Mental Health and Mental. Health Services Research, 32, 167–187.

    Google Scholar 

  • Jones, L. K., & Cureton, J. L. (2014). Trauma redefined in the DSM-5: Rationale and implications for counseling practice. The Professional Counselor, 4, 257–271.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lieberman, A. F., Chu, A., Van Horn, P., & Harris, W. W. (2011). Trauma in early childhood: Empirical evidence and clinical implications. Development and Psychopathology, 23, 397–410.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Lieberman, A. F., & Knorr, K. (2007). The impact of trauma: A developmental framework for infancy and early childhood. Pediatric Annals, 36, 209.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Marshall, M. N. (1996). The key informant technique. Family Practice, 13, 92–97.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Milot, T., Éthier, L. S., St-Laurent, D., & Provost, M. A. (2010). The role of trauma symptoms in the development of behavioral problems in maltreated preschoolers. Child Abuse & Neglect, 34, 225–234.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Mongillo, E. A., Briggs-Gowan, M., Ford, J. D., & Carter, A. S. (2009). Impact of traumatic life events in a community sample of toddlers. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 37, 455–468.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Scheeringa, M. S., Zeanah, C. H., & Cohen, J. A. (2011). PTSD in children and adolescents: toward an empirically based algorithm. Depression and Anxiety, 28, 770–782.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Scheeringa, M. S., Zeanah, C. H., Myers, L., & Putnam, F. W. (2003). New findings on alternative criteria for PTSD in preschool children. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 42, 561–570.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2014). SAMHSA’s concept of trauma and guidance for a trauma-informed approach. Rockville, MD: SAMHSA.

    Google Scholar 

  • Tracy, S. J. (2010). Qualitative quality: Eight “big-tent” criteria for excellent qualitative research. Qualitative Inquiry, 16, 837–851.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author Contributions

K.P.C.: designed and executed the study, co-led data analyses, and wrote the paper. S.A.: co-led data analyses and wrote part of the results. J.S.: assisted with data analysis and wrote part of the results. H.M.: collaborated in designing the study and editing the final manuscript.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Katrina P. Cummings.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Cummings, K.P., Addante, S., Swindell, J. et al. Creating Supportive Environments for Children Who have had Exposure to Traumatic Events. J Child Fam Stud 26, 2728–2741 (2017).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


  • Early childhood education
  • Early childhood special education
  • Trauma
  • Socio-emotional development
  • Parent-teacher partnerships