10 Things Educators Need to Know to Respond to Traumatized Students

Lakeside’s Institute for Family Professionals has had the privilege of training the staff of the Philadelphia School District. Many of the staff are on the front lines of dealing with some extremely difficult situations. They tell stories of how students are responding to trauma-informed care. And from these stories, we hear about the sheer numbers of students diagnosed with a form of disorder who suffer the core issue of being impacted by trauma.

How can educators respond to the traumatized students in their classrooms?

Following is an article by Michael McKnight focused at educators and what they need to know about trauma-informed care for their students.

Does your school have children that demonstrate outrageous behavior on a daily basis? Do you have young children who literally come to school and carry in angry feelings all the time? Is their anger so intense and beyond much of what you have seen in the past? Does your school have young people who overreact to adult requests for cooperation and explode easily?

Teen girl in despairDoes your school have students who find it almost impossible to sit still and pay attention to almost anything? Does your school have young people who seem always down and depressed? Does your school have children and young people who seem always disconnected, tired and impossible to motivate? Does your school have children who “cut” themselves?

Pain based behaviors

Students demonstrating behaviors driven by pain of living in environments of toxic levels of stress carry into our schools and classrooms behaviors that are seen as “discipline problems.” The symptoms of trauma in young children and adolescents look like problems of disrespect, disobedience, disruption, and defiance. The behaviors they demonstrate daily look like other behaviors we have seen: frustration, acting out, difficulty paying attention, never following directions and cannot work well with others.

[Traumatized students] can easily be misdiagnosed as children with anxiety disorders, emotional disorders, or attention deficit disorders because the surface symptoms of trauma in children look like these categories we have created in our schools.

These young people have difficulties that make teaching them in a classroom setting with other children extremely difficult. Further, they back untrained and unaware teachers and administrators into treating their “pain based behaviors” with more PAIN BASED SCHOOL DISCIPLINE.

It is beyond the scope of this piece, but my strong belief and experience has shown me that many children in our schools that carry these more familiar labels ( ADHD, ED, BD, ANXIETY DISORDERS ) are kids that come to us with background of trauma! Take a deeper look and notice the intensity of the behavior, frequency of the behavior, and duration of the behavior speak of the environments these young people are growing up in.

Here are 10 Things Educators need to know about Trauma and the children and youth they serve in the Schools ( From: We Are Teachers:

  1. Kids who have experienced trauma aren’t trying to push your buttons.
  2. Kids who have been through trauma worry about what’s going to happen next.
  3. Even if the situation doesn’t seem that bad to you, it’s how the child feels that matters. 
  4. Trauma isn’t always associated with violence. Kids can suffer from the effects of toxic stress from a variety of things: divorce, and major move, being bullied and picked on,  ect…  Remember, you can not see the stress level a person carries! You don’t need to know exactly what caused the trauma to be able to help.
  5. You don’t have to dig deep into the trauma to be able to effectively respond with empathy and flexibility. These young people need someone to stick with them. 
  6. Kids who experience trauma need to feel they’re good at something and can influence the world.
  7. There’s a direct connection between stress and learning.
  8. Self-regulation can be a major challenge for students suffering from trauma.
  9. It’s OK to ask kids point-blank what you can do to help them make it through the day.
  10. You can support kids with trauma even when they’re outside your classroom.

Concluding thoughts

It is so important for educators to be attuned to the issues related to trauma and the developing brain of their students. In so doing, I believe we will more properly diagnose those students who are displaying behaviors that are difficult to understand or manage. We may need to be spending more time regulating these students before we can effectively teach in the classroom.

Gerry Vassar, President/CEO, Lakeside Educational Network


One Comment

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