Why is Back to School Especially Difficult for Children from Hard Places?


Back to school season can be difficult for all children, but especially for children from hard places. Before we officially dive into the “why,” it’s helpful to define the “who.” For the purposes of this topic, we will be talking about children from hard places. “Children from hard places” is a term coined by Dr. Karyn Purvis of the TCU Child Development Institute and made famous by her book The Connected Child.  Essentially, this term encompasses all children with a traumatic past or those who have had adverse childhood experiences. Such experiences could include: being emotionally/physically/sexual abused; exposure to domestic violence; alcoholism in the family; exposure to or having mental illness; exposure to drug abuse; neglect; abandonment by their primary caregiver/parent; having been in foster care; adoption; having experienced early medical trauma/injury or illness; prolonged separation from their caregiver; material illness/stress; and malnutrition.

When any of these events affect a child, their early brain development can be compromised. Some may say their development is stunted, shifted or they have been “programmed differently”. The experiences and environment in which the child was raised change the “normal” organization, development and functionality of their brain and other components of their nervous systems. Unfortunately, this can result in physiological, psychological, emotional, and behavioral adaptations. Their ability to navigate the world is clouded by their inappropriate early childhood experiences.

Children from hard places do not interact with others or their environments the same ways that non-traumatized children do. Seasons of transitions and new experiences can be especially difficult, because a child from a hard place longs for control, and these are instances when their control is usually taken away from them. Because their past experiences have affected the development of their brain, the beginning of school, a new school or teacher, new routines, or even a different bus route can be difficult for children.

Thankfully, countess resources exist to help adoptive families, teachers and caregivers navigate through what can be a difficult time for the child.

Photo Credit: U.S. Department of Education


Karlene Edgemon works as MLJ Adoptions’ Director of Social Services. Throughout her 25 year social services career, Karlene has been able to watch adoption transform the lives of children and she is always brainstorming new ways to support adoptive families before, during and after their adoption.