Unit 2: Trauma, Our Brains, and God


Read the following description of a child from a hard place. (Click to expand the text.)

At first glance, Sam was a typical five-year-old boy. He was full of energy and loved to play outside as much as he could. Give him a basketball or a shovel and he could stay occupied for hours. He had an infectious laugh and a sweet demeanor that made many adults adore him.

His adoptive parents, however, knew that it wasn’t so easy. Sam seemed to want everyone’s love and approval except for his parents. Also, Sam had a really hard time accepting “no” or adjusting to the slightest change of plans. If surprised by news or a decision he didn’t like, Sam could almost immediately descend into a fifteen or twenty minute uncontrollable tantrum, which made his parents feel at times angry and at other times hopeless.

Sam’s Bible class teachers noticed some of this too. They saw his manipulative behavior to get what he wanted. They saw how he had a hard time when he didn’t get his way – harder than the average child. They saw the thinly-veiled rage in his eyes. They worried about Sam’s habit of picking at his skin and biting his fingernails until they bled.

Most of these adults, however, didn’t know Sam’s back story. Sam’s birth mother had delivered him almost three months prematurely. Sam spent the first weeks of his life hooked up to machines instead of being held by a human. Sam had some lasting effects of the drugs his birth mom had taken while pregnant.

After being taken from his birth mother, Sam’s first home placement was with a well-intentioned but neglectful caregiver who did not promptly meet this young baby’s needs.

By the time his adoptive parents got him, Sam had been through three caregivers.

But these adoptive parents got Sam at six months of age. Surely that was early enough to undo these early traumas, right?


Video: Children from Hard Places

Youtube-iconWatch the following video.

Adobe_PDF_file_icon_24x24Fill out this worksheet while watching.

audioListen to the audio presentation below on risk factors and their effects.


pollTake this poll on the risk factors you may have experienced as a child. If your mother had a difficult pregnancy or birth with you, check those appropriate boxes. If you were hospitalized as an infant or child, check that box. If you experienced trauma, abuse, or neglect as an infant or child, check those appropriate boxes. The anonymous results will be shared with this study group.

Risk Factors:


docReview the following descriptions of children from hard places. In the appropriate fields below each one, identify (1) which risk factor(s) each child experienced, (2) how those risk factors are related to their attachment/sensory/behavioral issues, and (3) one scripture that addresses how teachers should view and treat that child.

Click to read description #1.

By all accounts, Molly had a healthy early life. She had two nurturing birth parents who were with her from her first day and who continue to parent her. The family has more than enough money so that there are no financial stresses. Molly’s mother received a promotion to a new job during her pregnancy with Molly, so this helps the family’s income.

Molly was born just two weeks prematurely via c-section. While she spent her first few days in the NICU, the doctors were never worried about her overall health, knowing that she would thrive just fine after a few days.

Lately however, in her preteen years, Molly has begun to experience some issues related to her mental health. She sometimes grows very defiant and angry with her parents – more than just usual conflict between teenagers and parents. Her rage can sometimes be uncontrollable. When she is this upset, she doesn’t want anyone to be near her or touch her. Her parents are understandably confused as to what has triggered this behavior.

Risk factors present:
Relation to attachment/sensory/behavioral issues:
Scripture that relates:

Click to read description #2.

James’ adoptive parents are exhausted from food battles. Having adopted James from a Russian orphanage at two years old, his parents have lovingly cared for James ever since then. James is now five years old.

James’ parents are confident he was not physically or sexually abused during his time at the orphanage. However, James was dangerously thin when he was adopted, and he did not know how to interact with adults at all. He preferred to stare at the ceiling or walls.

Last week, James’ father was preparing dinner, when James entered the kitchen to ask for a granola bar. Since dinner was just five minutes away, James’ father understandably told James to wait. This, however, sent James into a rageful fit that turned into uncontrollable sobs. He stormed out of the kitchen, slammed his door, and buried his face in his pillow while pounding the bed.

James’ parents didn’t want a granola bar to spoil James’ dinner. They’re wondering why that’s such a big deal.

Risk factors present:
Relation to attachment/sensory/behavioral issues:
Scripture that relates:


On your own sheet of paper, compose a prayer for a child from a hard place. It can be a child you know, or child you imagine based on this unit’s material.

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