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Dele Alli and what every teacher needs to know about childhood trauma

In this blog we are looking at Dele Alli’s recent interview with Gary Neville about his childhood traumas, and what every teacher needs to know about Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).

Credit - Getty

Firstly, we send our utmost love and respect to Dele Alli for his bravery in disclosing his childhood trauma and facing his challenges head on. We are rooting for him in his recovery.


We recommend that every teacher watches the full interview with Gary Neville to get a greater understanding of the impact ACEs can have on a person. You can click on the image below to watch the interview.

Credit - The Overlap

In the interview, Dele Alli says that he hopes he helps others in the future by speaking now about his past. His interview has raised awareness of childhood trauma and we want to use it as an opportunity to educate more hero teachers so that they can support young people in their classrooms who have suffered from adverse childhood experiences.


So what are Adverse Childhood Experiences?

Trauma occurs when children are exposed to events or situations that overwhelm their ability to cope with what they have just experienced.

These can range from Big Traumas such as:

  • Child physical abuse

  • Child sexual abuse

  • Child emotional abuse

  • Emotional neglect including affluent neglect

  • Physical neglect

  • Mentally ill person in the home

  • Drug addicted or alcoholic family member

  • Witnessing domestic violence

  • Loss of a parent to death or abandonment by parental divorce

  • Incarceration of family member

To smaller traumas such as:

  • Moving house

  • Birth of a new sibling

  • Failing at an exam

  • Friendship issues

  • Illness/injury

  • Loss

The key thing to remember is that all of us process trauma differently so what might have a significant impact on one person may not have such an impact on another.

In addition to the childhood traumas in the picture above, Dele also had an alcoholic family member and suffered from parental separation.


Toxic Stress

When our body perceives that we are in danger it releases cortisol and adrenaline to keep us safe. These chemicals are great, for example, if we are crossing the road and we see a lorry flying towards us and they help us get out of the way.

However, prolonged exposure can lead to physical illness, mental illness and early death.


Research completed by Brown, D.W. et al (2009) in their Adverse Childhood Experiences and the Risk of Premature Mortality study found that ACEs are a leading determinant of the most common forms of physical illness such as cancer, diabetes & heart attacks, mental illness such as depression and anxiety, and early death in the Western World.


The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACE Study)

The ACE Study was one of the biggest Public Health Studies of all time. Researchers interviewed 17,000 people and found that ACEs are the leading determinant of the most common forms of physical illness, mental illness and early death in the Western World. Cancer, diabetes, heart attacks, depression and anxiety are all linked to ACEs.


ACEs set people on a journey from childhood trauma to early death, following a predictable pattern outlined in this image.

Mechanisms by which adverse childhood experiences influence health & wellbeing throughout the lifespan.

Source: Brown, D.W. et al (2009) in their Adverse Childhood Experiences and the Risk of Premature Mortality study


What about the impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences in schools?

As the number of ACEs increases so does the chances of the young person having; learning difficulties, weak attainment, low attendance, low engagement and/or violent behaviour.

Learned Helplessness

According to Award-winning author, Dr Mine Conkbayir, childhood trauma typically gives rise to learned helplessness in survivors.


Characteristics include:

  • Feeling useless

  • Wondering what’s the point

  • No one cares

  • Low motivation

  • Low self-confidence

  • Low/no expectations of success

  • Difficulty with persisting

  • Not asking for help

  • Ascribing a lack of success to a lack of ability

  • Ascribing success to factors beyond their control, such as luck.

As educators , you may well have seen and heard similar, or wondered why some children don't even try. It is vital to be familiar with Learned Helplessness and the possible signs, to avoid misjudging and labelling.


Not having any control over, or options to escape an abusive childhood takes its toll in countless horrific ways. Healthy brain development and function is impaired, which impacts self-regulation, behaviour and learning.

Credit - Reuters

A story of hope

It is not all doom and gloom though, as research shows that a range of protective factors, before the age of 18, can help interrupt the cycle from childhood adversity to early death.


It is very difficult for teachers to provide the first 4 protective factors but we believe that teachers can absolutely provide the final 4 protective factors:

  • When I was a child there were people who helped me feel better when I was sad or worried.

  • When I felt bad I could almost always find someone I could trust to talk to.

  • There are people I can count on now.

  • Someone in my childhood believed in me.


One emotionally available adult can make all the difference for a young person who has suffered from trauma and that one person can often be found in schools.


Often, as teachers we do not know what is going on outside of school in our students’ lives but we do know that so many of our young people are currently struggling in school with their wellbeing, attendance, engagement, progress and behaviour in a post lockdown education world.


Here at Future Action, we will continue to advocate for a trauma informed approach in our schools, so that teachers can transform relationships to improve wellbeing, behaviour, engagement, attendance & progress in the short term and more importantly transform young people’s life chances in the long term.


The good news is that as teachers we can become more emotionally available to our young people through greater awareness and staff training, and that not only benefits them greatly but also benefits our own wellbeing.


Trauma Informed PE

If you would like to know more about ‘Trauma Informed PE’ and how you can implement this approach in your teaching, then we have created an online ‘Trauma Informed PE’ teacher training course based on our Recover Roadmap.

The Recover roadmap is a 7-step process to guide Physical Education teachers how to implement trauma informed practice to transform relationships, wellbeing, engagement, behaviour & progress within 90 days, and children's life chances in the long term.

Your Enhancing Engagement Scorecard:

We have created an enhancing engagement scorecard to help you take the first step in implementing ‘Trauma Informed PE’. Click here to try our 2 minute scorecard.

Get in contact

We hope you got value from today's blog. Get in touch if we can help you achieve your goals.

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