17 April 2024

Changes to emotions, social skills, behaviour, and wairua

Understand the impacts on learning and wellbeing.

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Injury to wairua

Injury to wairua

An ABI can impact every aspect of a person.

For Māori, the head is the most sacred part of the body.

Brain injuries affect not only their anatomy and physiology, but also their spirituality.

Dr Hinemoa Elder

Reduced insight and self awareness

Reduced insight and self awareness

Changes in the brain influence emotions, behaviour, and social skills.

Injury to the brain may substantially alter a child or young person’s ability to assess a problem and find a solution.

The inability to think in a flexible manner often makes a child or young person argumentative or unmotivated.

Often the child or young person is unaware of changes in their ability, or does not pick up cues from others.

Source: Brain injury in children and youth: A manual for educators – Colorado Department of Education (opens in a new tab/window)

Influence on self-control

Influence on self-control

When the brain is injured it gets tired quickly.

Less energy equals less self-control and unexpected mood swings.

Changes to expression

Changes to expression

After children and young people have sustained a brain injury, they may express themselves differently.

  • Speaking without thinking first.
  • Jumping from topic to topic when talking.
  • Talking less and appearing withdrawn.
  • Dominating conversations – talking more and not listening to others.
  • Missing things that are said or “getting the wrong end of the stick”.



Brain injury can cause changes to the way children and young people feel, act, and connect to others.

  • Brain injury can affect every aspect of being human, including personality, spirit, and sense of self.
  • Pre-existing personality traits can be accentuated.
  • Varying control of emotions and behaviour may be exhibited.
  • Impulse control is frequently reduced.
  • Reduced awareness of self and others may be evident.
  • Reduced confidence to do things by themselves may be evident.
  • Overconfidence may be evident and some children and young people may need to learn to rely on others more for support.

Useful resources

Useful resources

Brain injury in children and youth A manual for educators

Brain injury in children and youth: A manual for educators

Read time: 212 min

How a brain injury can be recognised and managed, including sections on disruptions to development at any point, social and emotional competencies and response-to-intervention (RTI) plans.

Publisher: Colorado Department of Education

Visit website

Changes Behaviour mood personality

Changes: Behaviour, mood & personality

Read time: 3 min

This leaflet explains how damage to certain parts of the brain can change personality and behaviour and affect mood.

Publisher: Brain Injury NZ

Download PDF

Te Whare o Oro thumbnail

Te Whare o Oro

A mātauranga Māori framework for understanding the roro (brain). Includes a chapter on adapting Te Whare o Oro for specific neurodivergence and trauma.

Publisher: Te Atawhai o Te Ao Charitable Trust

Visit website

Next steps

More suggestions for implementing the strategy “Understand impacts on learning and wellbeing”:

Return to the guide “Supporting learners with acquired brain injury”

Guide to Index of the guide: Acquired brain injury and learning