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[Educator Network] Educator Resources: Supporting Students Dealing with Trauma

[Educator Network] Educator Resources: Supporting Students Dealing with Trauma

Students and teachers are sometimes faced with stressful situations outside of their control. Managing and addressing emotions brought on by stressful events can make day-to-day instruction feel trivial in comparison. However, we can’t always press “pause” when we need to, and sometimes, we must move forward with instruction and provide students dealing with stress a sense of stability in the classroom.

School should be a place where the student’s day is dependable, unswerving, and expected. No teacher is ever responsible for resolving students’ trauma; however, educators should be aware of the resources available to support learners dealing distress.  Educators can help connect them to the services available and maintain a focus on keeping the stability of the classroom in place.

For educators, providing students impacted by trauma with the right support to feel safe and at ease in the classroom can feel like a lot of pressure. It is important to support students who have experienced trauma, but keep in mind that there are professions dedicated specifically to helping students work through and develop personal coping mechanisms to deal with trauma, including guidance counselors, mental health therapists, social workers, and psychiatrists and psychologists.

How to Understand and Identify Student Trauma

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) reports that one out of every four children attending school has been exposed to a traumatic event that can affect learning and/or behavior. NCTSN defines a traumatic event as a “frightening, dangerous, or violent event that poses a threat to a child’s life or bodily integrity.” A variety of events can be considered traumatic, and in the past several months, they feel like they might have all happened at the same time. In some instances, teachers, as well as students, might be affected by the same incident, which can be disruptive to both instruction and learning.

Students react to trauma in their own unique way. While there is no clear-cut set of cues to look for, there are many resources for possible signs to keep an eye out for. Trauma screening resources are also available for educators to help providers identify students’ and families’ needs. According to the NCTSN’s Child Trauma Toolkit for Educators, children affected by trauma may exhibit a variety of behaviors which you might observe. Here are some signs to look for:

Common Trauma Symptoms in Students

  • Anxiety, fear, and worry about safety of self and others
  • Withdrawal
  • Changes in school performance
  • Emotional numbing
  • Distrust of others
  • Withdrawal from others or activities
  • Repeatedly talking about or “playing out” the traumatic event

It’s also important to take into account the trauma and stress students may have experienced related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The crisis raises concerns related to danger, safety, and the need for protection. It may have brought new grief, loss, and trauma, which could include increased risk for violence and abuse in the home. Many students have experienced adversities related to isolation, economic hardship, and unmet basic needs. They likely have stressors such as other family members at home all day and concerns for their own health and the health of loved ones. These issues have the potential to contribute to anxiety, depression, or symptoms of secondary traumatic stress

How Educators Can Help

Educators spend a great deal of time with students on a day-to-day basis. This can be helpful in being able to identify a student who has been affected by trauma. While it is not the role of educators to take on the full breadth of counseling and providing support to students affected by trauma, getting the appropriate resources to students in need can make a world of difference. Educators should feel empowered to direct students affected by trauma to professionals who can support not only students but their families as well. Additionally, the stress that students experience is real and often contagious to educators, so make sure that all involved are taking care of their own mental health.

Educators can provide stability and support in their classroom practices for students who have gone through trauma. The NCTSN has outlined several suggestions for educators that can help support a learner who has gone through a traumatic event:

  • Maintain usual routines. A return to “normalcy” will communicate the message that the child is safe, and life will go on. 
     
  • Increase the level of support and encouragement given to the traumatized child. Designate an adult who can provide additional support if needed. 
     
  • Recognize that behavioral problems may be transient and related to trauma. Remember that even the most disruptive behavior can be driven by trauma-related anxiety. 
     
  • Anticipate difficult times and provide additional support. Many kinds of situations may be reminders. If you are able to identify reminders, you can help by preparing the child for the situation. For instance, for the child who doesn’t like being alone, provide a partner to accompany him or her to the restroom.
     
  • Give simple and realistic answers to the child’s questions about traumatic events. Clarify distortions and misconceptions. If it isn’t an appropriate time, be sure to give the child a time and place to talk and ask questions.
     
Additional Resources

There are plenty of organizations and materials available to help educators offer support and connect students to these critical services. We’ve gathered up some of the best websites, fact sheets, and articles to help you support your students who are experiencing trauma.

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) was created by Congress in 2000 as part of the Children’s Health Act to raise the standard of care and increase access to services for children and families who experience or witness traumatic events. This unique network of frontline providers, family members, researchers, and national partners is committed to changing the course of children’s lives by improving their care and moving scientific gains quickly into practice across the U.S.

Trauma in Children During the COVID-19 Pandemic

To help children process their feelings during this unprecedented time, parents should provide developmentally appropriate information. Children may feel a range of emotions, and some are more able to identify how they are feeling.

Helping Traumatized Children: A Brief Overview for Caregivers

This booklet is one in a series developed by the ChildTrauma Academy to assist parents, caregivers, teachers, and various professionals working with maltreated and traumatized children.

Trauma-Informed Support for Children

Use this infographic from parenting and trauma-training provider Echo to look beyond immediate behaviors to understand the hurt or struggle a child is trying to communicate and build an environment where those needs can be addressed. The best expert is the compassionate heart–all the rest will follow.

How Trauma Affects Kids in School

This article from the Child Mind Institute offers useful perspectives on unexpected sources of trauma and the impacts that can have on students in the classroom.

Trauma and Children – Tips for Parents

For parents, helping their child through a traumatic experience can be emotional, confusing, and scary. This article from the Better Health Channel of the state government of Victoria, Australia, provides helpful tips to share with parents that walk them through the process of assisting their child in recovering from trauma and help them determine when to seek professional help.

Helping Children and Adolescents Cope with Disasters and Other Traumatic Events: What Parents, Rescue Workers, and the Community Can Do

This guide from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) provides a detailed overview of what constitutes a traumatic experience, common responses from children, ways that adults can help, and locations to access more resources.

Students who face trauma certainly require special accommodations. However, how they manage trauma-inducing events is unique to them. There are behaviors we can look for and resources we can put in place, but as educators, and often subjects of the same catastrophic events, we need to be aware of the resources and act as part of the solution.

The Edmentum Educator Network aims to unite education professionals through in-person and virtual events, celebrate and share expertise, and provide a community where passionate professionals can network to build better classrooms everywhere. Learn more about becoming a member of Edmentum’s Educator Network.

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Winnie O'Leary

Winnie O’Leary has spent over 25 years in education, as a classroom teacher, school board member, a family advocate, special education teacher, curriculum writer and currently a Curriculum Manager for Edmentum. Her experiences have allowed her to work with districts all over the country where she finds something new and exciting every day.