Derek Clark Childhood Trauma Motivational Speaker

Motivational Keynote Speaker for Teachers and Early Childhood Education -
Trauma Informed Care

“You never turn your back on a kid…except for a piggyback ride.”

Those are the words of inspiring motivational keynote speaker Derek Clark, an encouraging speaker for teacher conferences and teacher professional development training.


How Trauma-Informed Care Saves Children’s Lives and Why Early Childhood Development Needs It


Childhood is often perceived as a time of innocence, joy, and carefree exploration. However, for many children, this idyllic vision is shattered by the harsh reality of trauma and adversity. Trauma, whether it stems from abuse, neglect, natural disasters, or other adverse experiences, can leave lasting scars on a child’s physical, emotional, and psychological well-being. Trauma-informed care is a framework that recognizes the profound impact of trauma on children and strives to provide them with the support and healing they desperately need. This article explores how trauma-informed care saves children’s lives and why it is crucial for early childhood development.

Understanding Trauma-Informed Care

Trauma-informed care is an approach that acknowledges the widespread prevalence of trauma and its far-reaching consequences. It shifts the focus from asking, “What’s wrong with you?” to “What happened to you?” This perspective recognizes that trauma can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, or background, and it seeks to create an environment that promotes safety, empowerment, and healing.

The core principles of trauma-informed care include:

1. Safety: Creating a physically and emotionally safe environment for children where they can express themselves without fear of judgment or harm.

2. Trustworthiness and Transparency: Building trust through clear communication and consistent, reliable interactions with caregivers and professionals.

3. Peer Support: Encouraging connections and supportive relationships among children and their peers to foster a sense of belonging.

4. Collaboration and Mutuality: Involving children and their families in decision-making processes and treatment plans, recognizing their expertise in their own lives.

5. Empowerment, Voice, and Choice: Giving children the opportunity to voice their opinions and make choices about their care whenever possible, empowering them to regain a sense of control.

6. Cultural, Historical, and Gender Issues: Being sensitive to cultural, historical, and gender-related factors that may influence a child’s trauma experience and response.

7. Resilience and Strength-Based Perspective: Focusing on a child’s strengths and resilience rather than just their deficits, recognizing that healing is possible.

The Prevalence of Childhood Trauma

Before delving into how trauma-informed care can save children’s lives, it’s essential to understand the scope of childhood trauma. Trauma in childhood can take many forms, including physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, neglect, exposure to violence, loss of a caregiver, natural disasters, and more. The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Kaiser Permanente revealed that childhood trauma is alarmingly common. The study found that almost two-thirds of participants reported at least one ACE, while one in six reported experiencing four or more ACEs.

These traumatic experiences can have profound and lasting effects on a child’s physical and mental health. They increase the risk of developing chronic health conditions, mental health disorders, and substance abuse problems later in life. The impact of childhood trauma is often likened to a “hidden epidemic” due to its widespread and often unacknowledged nature.

The Lifesaving Power of Trauma-Informed Care

1. Breaking the Cycle of Trauma: One of the most significant ways in which trauma-informed care saves children’s lives is by breaking the cycle of trauma. Children who experience trauma are at a higher risk of perpetuating that trauma in their own lives and relationships. Trauma-informed care interrupts this cycle by providing children with the support and resources they need to heal and develop healthy coping mechanisms.

2. Early Intervention and Prevention: Trauma-informed care emphasizes early intervention and prevention. By identifying trauma early in a child’s life and providing appropriate support, professionals can mitigate the long-term effects of trauma. This proactive approach can prevent a cascade of negative outcomes, including mental health issues, substance abuse, and even suicide.

3. Improved Mental Health: Trauma-informed care prioritizes the mental health of children. It recognizes that traumatic experiences can lead to conditions like depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and suicidal ideation. By addressing trauma and providing therapeutic interventions, children are more likely to experience improved mental well-being and a decreased risk of self-destructive behaviors.

4. Enhanced Resilience: Trauma-informed care fosters resilience in children. Resilience is the ability to bounce back from adversity and develop healthy coping strategies. Through trauma-informed care, children learn to recognize their own strength and resilience, which can serve as a protective factor against future trauma.

5. Healthy Attachment and Relationships: Childhood trauma often disrupts a child’s ability to form healthy attachments and relationships. Trauma-informed care focuses on rebuilding trust and promoting secure attachments with caregivers, peers, and professionals. These healthy relationships provide a strong foundation for emotional well-being and lifelong success.

6. Improved Physical Health: Trauma-informed care doesn’t only address psychological aspects but also recognizes the impact of trauma on physical health. Chronic stress resulting from trauma can lead to physical health issues such as heart disease, obesity, and autoimmune disorders. By addressing trauma, healthcare providers can improve a child’s overall health and well-being.

7. Reduced Risky Behaviors: Children who experience trauma are more likely to engage in risky behaviors, such as substance abuse and self-harm, as maladaptive coping mechanisms. Trauma-informed care equips children with healthier ways to cope with stress and emotional pain, reducing the likelihood of engaging in these harmful behaviors.

Why Early Childhood Development Needs Trauma-Informed Care

Early childhood is a critical period for development, and the impact of trauma during these formative years can be especially profound. Here’s why early childhood development needs trauma-informed care:

1. Brain Development: During the early years of life, a child’s brain is rapidly developing. Trauma can disrupt this process, leading to long-lasting cognitive and emotional difficulties. Trauma-informed care provides the support necessary to mitigate these disruptions and promote healthy brain development.

2. Attachment Formation: Secure attachments with caregivers are crucial for healthy development. Trauma-informed care recognizes the importance of repairing disrupted attachments and fostering secure, nurturing relationships, which are essential for a child’s emotional and social development.

3. Language and Communication Skills: Trauma can hinder language and communication development in young children. By addressing trauma early and providing appropriate interventions, trauma-informed care helps children develop the essential skills they need for effective communication and future success in school and life.

4. Emotional Regulation: Trauma often leads to difficulties in regulating emotions, which can impact a child’s ability to manage stress and cope with daily challenges. Trauma-informed care teaches children healthy strategies for emotional regulation, setting them on a path to emotional well-being.

5. Social Skills and Peer Relationships: Childhood trauma can interfere with the development of social skills and peer relationships. Trauma-informed care creates an environment that encourages healthy social interactions and supports children in building positive relationships with their peers.

6. Preventing Long-term Consequences: Early intervention through trauma-informed care can prevent the long-term consequences of childhood trauma, such as mental health disorders, substance abuse, and risky behaviors. By addressing trauma in early childhood, professionals can help children develop healthier coping mechanisms.

Implementing Trauma-Informed Care in Early Childhood Settings

To ensure the effectiveness of trauma-informed care in early childhood development, various stakeholders must be involved:

1. Educators: Teachers and childcare providers play a crucial role in identifying signs of trauma in young children and creating a safe and supportive classroom environment. Training educators in trauma-informed practices is essential.

2. Parents and Caregivers: Parents and primary caregivers need support and education on trauma-informed parenting techniques. This includes understanding the effects of trauma on child development and learning how to provide a safe and nurturing home environment.

3. Healthcare Professionals: Pediatricians and other healthcare providers should be trained to recognize the signs of trauma in young patients and refer them to appropriate services. Early intervention can significantly impact a child’s long-term well-being.

4. Community Support: Communities can establish trauma-informed support networks that provide resources for families and children affected by trauma. These networks can include counseling services, support groups, and crisis intervention.

5. Policy Changes: Advocacy for policy changes is vital to ensure that trauma-informed care is integrated into early childhood education, healthcare, and social services. This includes allocating resources and funding for trauma-informed programs and training.


Trauma-informed care has the power to save children’s lives and transform their futures. By recognizing the profound impact of trauma on children and providing them with the support, understanding, and resources they need, we can break the cycle of trauma and promote healthy development. Early childhood development, in particular, is a critical time to implement trauma-informed care, as it can prevent long-term consequences and set children on a path to emotional and psychological well-being. It is incumbent upon parents, educators, healthcare professionals, and policymakers to embrace and champion trauma-informed care as a lifeline for children in need, ensuring that no child is left to navigate the aftermath of trauma alone.


Here is a recent testimonial from San Bernardino school district educator wellness conference in California:

“Hi Derek, I just wanted to say that as someone who speaks at conferences and trainings all over, I have heard hundreds if not a thousand speakers over the years…and you my friend are the best I’ve ever heard. Thank you for sharing your story today!!!!!” – Teacher – Mr. Amundson


Motivating Students

When it comes to the indicators of motivation, there are three overall: choice, effort, and persistence. Teachers must acknowledge students’ necessity for self-determination and independence, and create opportunities to make positive choice. Realize that students may be naturally and unnaturally driven to learn. Although having a room filled with students who are naturally driven to learn seems to be much better, it is still comprehensible that getting good grades, acceptance, and rewards motivates students. Natural and unnatural motivation doesn’t survive at a single time, but on two distinct ones, and students may frequently have several destinations for the same course. Normally, students would direct their behavior alongside certain actions that they prefer and on activities in which they are enthusiastic about for success.

Take advantage of students’ present needs

In motivating students, it’s ideal to use their interest and intrinsic state of mind. When courses are designed in a way that students learn best, they will be driven to learn; this can be made possible by providing incentives that enable learning in a classroom that suits their reason for choosing the course. Certain needs which students tend to come to the classroom with are, the need to discover something that would enable them complete a project or duty, the need to get new expertise, the need to master certain acquisitions, the need to get over challenges, the need to get efficient, the need to become successful, the need to feel accepted by people. Being able to attend to such needs is pleasing and gratifying, and this kind of gratification is much more effective than grades. Come up with assignments, classroom duty, and discussions that can handle these needs.

Student’s active participation should be your duty

Students are able to learn from what they make, do, write, design, create and solve. In-activeness of students kills motivation and curiosity. Throw questions to students; encourage them to bring up ideas to solving a problem or to think about outcomes for experiments.

Find out from students the classes that are more motivating

Listen to them. Get to know your students. An effective way to know what motivates students are by finding out directly from the students. Get to know what type of teachings motivate the most and the ones that don’t. Attract the student’s abilities and interests. To develop natural motivation, we must create an avenue for understanding and reliance. If you haven’t seen the movie Freedom Writers or read the book, I strongly encourage you to do that. I had the great pleasure of sharing the stage and speaking at an event with “Mrs. G” (the teacher who inspired her students) and we had a great conversation about how to connect with students especially those who have gone through a lot of trauma. Don’t be afraid to share a part of your life experience to your classroom.

Assist students in coming up with attainable goals and support their dreams no matter how outlandish they seem.

Never discount their goals or dreams. You have no right to tell them that they aren’t good enough, smart enough, skinny enough, tall enough, etc… Be a people builder and not an assassinator of dreams. Many people do that and your classroom shouldn’t be the place to crush dreams. Inability to achieve “wild” goals can be highly disappointing and weakening to students but encourage them to work towards them everyday. I met an 18 year old that told me he wanted to play in the NBA. He said people have told him that he is too short. I told him to go for it. You never know what his dream will lead him to. Maybe it will be a NBA coach or a sports writer. Don’t be the one who crushes their dream. Inspire them to focus on their long-term growth, not just on exams or one assignment.

Let students know what it takes to succeed in your course

Your students shouldn’t go through hassles to know what they need to. Communicate to them what you expect. Always let them know that they can perform better in your course, and let them know what it would take to succeed. Your go to question with any student can be “How can I help you? Build the student’s self esteem and motivation by connecting to them.


Be zealous about your subject.

A teacher’s liveliness is an important component in student motivation. Once you get uninterested or indifferent, students will too. Ordinarily, a teacher’s sprightliness is a result of assurance, excitement about the content, and good pleasure in teaching. Once you get yourself uninterested in the material, consider what appealed to you in the field and elevate the delivery to your students. You can also push yourself to come up with the most interesting method to present the material, no matter how dull the material may seem to you.

Motivation is both influenced by negative and positive remarks, but research always points out that students are more moved by positive feedback and success. Praise strengthens students’ self-confidence, ability, and self-esteem. Also, acknowledge their genuine attempt even though the result may be less than your expectations. If a student’s performance is poor, let the student know that you trust he or she can get better and succeed with time.

Being a teacher is tough and they are sure to get burnt out every now and then but Derek helps them find the fire within to keep on purpose. His teacher in-service programs inspire educators to have hope power and to know that they have the power to make a difference.

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