Risk Factors for a Poor Start in Life

TBRI® has identified six early risk factors that impact how some children think, trust, and connect with others. These risk factors change children’s brain development and brain chemistry, leading to a higher risk for emotional problems and mal-adaptive behaviors.

The Risk Factors Are:

Difficult pregnancy

 •including medical, drugs/alcohol, crisis or other trauma.

•persistent, high level of stress throughout pregnancy.

Difficult birth

Early hospitalization

 •greater exposure to painful touch rather than nurturing, comforting touch in the first days of life.


•Children from abusive backgrounds are always on guard, hyper vigilant to the environment around them.


•The message sent to a child from a neglectful background is ‘you don’t exist.’

•Children from neglectful backgrounds often suffer from the most severe behavioral problems and developmental deficits.


 •Any number of traumas in the child’s life (witnessing an extreme event, for example) can cause the child’s developmental trajectory to change in response.

The brain is “plastic”, which means it adapts to these situations that the child faces. Responses to these environments are ‘wired’ within their brain and are changeable to suit the needs of the specific situation. The bad news is that the behaviors that helped them cope in their early environment can become mal-adaptive once they are in your home and safe. They no longer need the behaviors for survival, but their brains are still wired to feel that way. Thankfully, the brain remains “plastic” throughout our life and still adapts to new situations. What this means for your child is that, with help, he or she can heal and learn to function in your home.

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