Oprah Sheds Light on Childhood Trauma

Oprah speaks and people listen. She has become passionate about asking, “What happened to you?” rather than “What’s wrong with you?” Those of us who make children the focus of our life work, need to be asking the right questions.

60 Minutes contributor Oprah Winfrey and Belinda Pittman-McGee Photo credit: CBS NEWS

As Dr. Bruce Perry said in the interview, children with early trauma are, “wired differently.” Their brains are literally changed by trauma and the way they respond to stressors, like fear or frustration, may be extreme and very negative. For some, the response is aggression and violence.

The good news is children’s brains have the capacity to form new pathways with the right interventions. There is hope.

Oprah asked why some children with early traumatic childhoods seem to be okay and others are not. Dr. Perry replied that it’s all about relationships. Oprah, herself, had an early childhood filled with trauma, yet she thrived in spite of it because someone cared about her.

“I know exactly the moment I started to feel valued and for me, it was school. The moment I felt the most value was in my fourth-grade class. Mrs. Duncan instilled in me a sense of believing that I mattered and that is what every human being is looking for…It was school that made me feel a sense of value and connection.”

Teachers, foster parents, adoptive parents, social workers, therapists, pastors, youth leaders, grandparents, aunts and uncles, look past the behavior to the heart of the child. What happened to cause this child to behave this way? How can we respond in a way that brings healing.

I know this is extremely hard at times, a lot of times actually, but we need to do our best. As we learn in  Circle of Security, we are “bigger, stronger, wiser, and kind.”

Don’t grow weary of doing the good work you’ve been called to do. Be a force for healing in the life of a child.

A note to those of you deep in the trenches of parenting children with developmental trauma, I know this is a very simplistic explanation. I also know that some of our kids are so harmed, that saying they need to be healed by relationships feels like a slap in the face. All we want is loving relationships with our kids, but they are not able to receive our love and care.

Oprah doesn’t even touch on prenatal exposure to substances, one of the earliest traumas for many of our kids. I know, we see that as a glaring omission.

I still think we should be encouraged by this. Oprah says this is the most important story she’s ever done and it is life-changing for her. The more light that is shed on childhood trauma, the better for our kids and for our families.

This is the interview:

If this link doesn’t work, you can see the interview here.

I hope you find this encouraging; I certainly do.

With love and hope for the journey,


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Let me introduce myself. Russ and I are the parents of twelve children by birth and adoption, and sometimes more through foster care. I'm the creator of One Thankful Mom which has been as much of a gift to me as to my readers. In 2011 I became a TBRI® Pracitioner* and have lived and breathed connected parenting ever since. I'm deeply honored to be the co-author, together with the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, of The Connected Parent; it is her final written work. I love speaking at events for adoptive and foster parents. I'm also the co-founder of The Adoption Connection, a podcast and resource site for adoptive moms. I mentor and encourage adoptive moms so you can find courage and hope in your journeys of loving your children well.


  1. Nicole
    March 13, 2018

    Like you, Lisa, I was encouraged to see Oprah choose to shed light on childhood trauma and I was thankful to hear her explain how learning about trauma has changed the way she sees people. (That’s my experience too!)

    It’s my hope (and probably many of our hope) that the short segment on 60 Minutes will lead to deeper conversations about the needs of those who have experienced developmental trauma- in circles where that knowledge matters greatly.

    Just today I was thinking that one pattern I’ve noticed is that many of our children have developmental, social, and academic gaps as a result of trauma, but, because they communicate most loudly through their behavior those needs go overlooked. Our children are often shamed for being traumatized- something they had no control over (just as they often have no control over their behavior when they don’t feel safe).

    Thanks for sharing the highlights!

    1. Lisa Qualls
      March 13, 2018

      Thanks for commenting on this, Nicole. I am hopeful that we’ll see more trauma-informed care in our culture.


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