How To Reach Students Who Have Experienced Trauma

Child trauma is when a child experiences something threatening his/her safety or well-being. It is when a child witnesses or is involved in an incident and experiences intense fear or anxiety. Some of them may not even be aware of what happened to them. Small changes in school culture and practice can make a big difference and help you teach students who have experienced trauma.

Here are tips for teachers on how to reach out to students who have experienced trauma.

How does Trauma Affect Students?

Trauma affects all aspects of life, including school. For example, it can affect students’ ability to access school and cause them to act out in class. In addition, trauma impacts children’s brains and bodies differently depending on the type of trauma. 

  • Acute reactions to trauma may include shaking, screaming, or being easily startled, while chronic reactions may have difficulty sleeping, nightmares, and flashbacks. 
  • Young children often show signs of fear or distress when faced with a frightening situation. 
  • Children may also experience flashbacks, nightmares, or other symptoms related to the actual event. 
  • They may have trouble communicating, reasoning, and controlling their emotions. 

These reactions may last for weeks or months after the initial incident. However, these challenges can cause problems in school and social settings. 

Many teachers lack knowledge about how to best help students manage the effects of trauma. Some schools have implemented programs to address student trauma, but many still struggle to provide adequate support for students dealing with trauma. 

6 Guiding Principles of SAMHSA

SAMHSA ( Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) released a report containing the six guiding principles of trauma-informed care in 2014. These principles include:

  1. Safety
  2. Trustworthiness and transparency
  3. Peer support and mutual self-help
  4. Collaboration and mutuality
  5. Empowerment, voice, and choice
  6. Cultural, historical, and gender issues

Understanding this helps us to understand the impact on the student. If we notice signs of extreme stress, we can intervene earlier and provide help. Teachers must be flexible enough to adjust their teaching plans to meet the needs of every student. 

Here are some exciting ways for teachers to reduce stress

Classroom Management

Small changes you can make in your classroom will help students manage the effects of trauma. For example, you might start by asking yourself questions like “How does my classroom feel?” and “What is my classroom culture like?” If you notice any improvements, keep going! 

There are specific strategies that you could adapt to help them through this. These strategies can include (but are certainly not limited to) mindfulness, restorative practices, and peer mediation.

Some schools also offer professional development opportunities for teachers. 

Create a Safe Space

One thing teachers can do is to create a positive classroom environment where children feel safe enough to talk about their feelings. For example, if a student is not sleeping well at night, they may benefit from taking a short nap during the day. In addition, a safe space can be an essential tool to help children cope with stress and anxiety. 

For example, you might start by creating a safe space at recess and lunchtime. Or, you could consider making a quiet corner in your classroom where students could go to relax and decompress.

Trauma-Informed View

When we adopt a trauma-informed view, we approach that student’s behaviour with openness and curiosity, rather than jumping to conclusions about what’s happening. A trauma-informed approach helps teachers notice when students are showing signs of trauma and help them recover. The trauma-informed approach to education involves working with students to understand what they may be facing in terms of trauma.

Think about ways you can incorporate trauma-sensitive practices into your daily routines.

A trauma-informed lens is a perspective of what a teacher believes causes children to act out. Trauma-Informed Care isn’t just a checkbox you tick. It takes time, effort, and planning. The goal is to provide positive reinforcement and guidance to students who may not receive it elsewhere.

Planning a Routine

Consistent daily routines, including academic structure, consistent activities for the day, and physical activity, can provide design and security for kids who struggle with anxiety. In addition, the system can go a long way toward reducing stress when a student feels like there is nothing left to do before the start of school.

  • Planning a daily routine helps your student understand what will happen during the day. A consistent practice allows children to have structure and prepare themselves for success. 
  • Setting expectations and goals together in class, defining responsibilities, and seeing how virtual students fare during the week provides constant reassurance and allows teachers to address any issues sooner. 
  • Daily schedules should have educational elements, time for fun, activities, and physical activity. This will provide a sense of calm during stressful times and allow children to focus on the lesson. 
  • A weekly overview of the schedule can also be very beneficial because it provides children with a short mental checklist of what needs to happen and helps them plan accordingly.

The Final Word

Emotions are hard to manage because of the trauma. Teachers need to understand what trauma is and how it affects students. They also need to consider how they can help students cope with trauma. Teachers should not hesitate to ask questions and provide extra resources if necessary. Lastly, the goal is to encourage students to become resilient adults.

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