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Trauma, Stress & Learning

Updated: Aug 27, 2023

Trauma's impact on Learning & Concentration by Dr. Mary Lyles

Children have many learning responsibilities.

In this moment, you have the ability to look for help. And you are here.

There is a potentially infinite amount of information in the universe. The brain appears to have, if not unlimited, at least a massive storage capacity. Limitation is in the amount of information that can be processed at one time. Learning theory suggests that only 5-6 chunks of information can be processed at one time.

When processing ability is filled with distressing thoughts and the necessity of managing intense emotions, little room is left for concentrating on academic demands and other memory tasks.

Thus, the stress of daily academic tasks can be overwhelming to a child.

The sense of safety is a basic human need that usually must be met before a child will feel free to concentrate on academic work. If your child is experiencing emotional or physical distress, be sure to communicate this to his or her teacher(s), school counselor, and principal. Find ways to communicate to your child truthful reassurances to reduce stress.


Adults may have more skills to manage stress. We can "compartmentalize" stressful thoughts, saving them for an appropriate time for attention. But, sometimes stressful thoughts break through into the area of thought for processing that is needed for work or learning. These times may include when a loved one is critically ill or has died, or when we are going through other major life changes, such as a divorce or financial struggles.

If you are having difficulty concentrating, a medical checkup is prudent.

Talking with a therapist can help you organize thoughts and address problems creating the distress.

Your therapist can also assist you or your child in learning skills for stress management.

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