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  • emilymroper

Stress, Trauma, and the Reason Kids Struggle with Emotion Regulation

The vast majority of parents who contact me have children who are struggling emotionally. They have meltdowns in school, angry outbursts, anxiety in new situations, and a host of other things. For most of these kids, the cause of these symptoms can be traced back to early brain development (pregnancy, birth and infancy) and how their brain learned to respond to stress and trauma.

In order to understand this connection, it is important to know how the brain responds to stress.In infancy we have a reflex called the Moro startle reflex. It is a baby’s survival reflex and it is responsible for keeping them alive.

Yes, I do have my Christmas tree up in February! ;)

In normal development, the Moro reflex disappears around four months after birth and the adult startle reflex takes over. Unfortunately, for many kids this process gets interrupted. Certain things that happen during pregnancy, birth, and early infancy can prevent this process from going smoothly:

  • high levels of stress during pregnancy

  • major illness during pregnancy

  • alcohol or drug exposure during pregnancy

  • birth trauma

  • forceps or vacuum delivery

  • cesarean section

  • head injuries

  • separation from birth mom

  • neglect

  • illness

  • seizures

  • and more

All of these things can cause the brain to hold on to the Moro as a protective response. The Moro is a baby’s survival reflex and sometimes the brain holds on to it in order to keep baby safe.

While it may be helpful in the moment, a retained Moro creates lots of problems with future brain development. It impacts the development of lots of different body systems including:

  • Arousal system

  • Emotion regulation system

  • Sensory systems

  • Visual system

  • Auditory system

  • Proprioceptive system

  • Immune system

  • Digestive system

Children with a retained Moro are living in a world that is too loud, too bright and too busy and their bodies respond to this world in an immature and over reactive way.

Integrating this reflex and getting the nervous system to function properly results in profound changes in children.

I have seen amazing improvements in children as they work through this reflex. They go from daily meltdowns to normal emotional control, from fearful and anxious to confident, from angry and defiant to cheerful and cooperative.

If this sounds like your child, then visit our website at to learn more and fill out our screening questionnaire.

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