According to the Mental Health Connection of Tarrant County, 26% of children in the United States witness a traumatic event before they turn four. Traumatized children have a hard time going through life. They are easily aggravated, distrust authority, and isolate themselves. When these factors combine, children with trauma struggle with basic activities, including keeping up with school. However, good teachers armed with the right information can make a difference in their lives.
Trauma has devastating effects on children, but recovery is possible when they get help and support, and school is a good place to start. School can be a wholesome and inclusive learning environment and can become a child’s biggest asset. As a teacher, your compassion, empathy, and insights into trauma can help these children be better. Here is how you can help students burdened by trauma.
. Learn About Outbursts
Children with trauma have a pattern of unpredictability, which is a natural response. While sitting in class, they can get aggressive, have trouble focusing or do not respond to anyone. Sometimes, a child may also disrupt the class in the middle of your lecture. Don’t get offended no matter what you witness but try to ascertain the root cause of the misbehavior.
Children with trauma have trouble managing their emotions which appear in their attitude. They are not out to get you – they just don’t know any better. Your efforts are better spent learning about these outbursts than reacting to them. It would help you immensely if you enroll in a program specializing in Trauma-Informed Teaching in Special Education so you know how to respond to a distressed child.
Specialized courses help you gauge the child’s behavior and create a safe space for them to cool down. When the student get to destress, they feel better going back to their peers. You can go the extra mile by helping other students understand their struggling peer.
. Construct a Structure and Practice Consistency
Think of a child’s mind as a puzzle game that they’re struggling to complete. That’s where you, as a teacher, come in. You can guide the child in connecting the dots if you allow yourself to join them in play. Unpredictability, lack of order, and racing thoughts make it hard for students to ask for help. So try and step up and remedy that hesitation by providing the structure unasked.
You may need to sit and examine your lesson plan, including daily classes, to allow time to self-regulate. You don’t want the student to feel education is a chore; instead, it should help them cope with their triggers. Incorporating activities like meditation, support circles, and breaks between lectures can give a child a margin to relax. It also prevents them from bottling their emotions and having outlets to let their thoughts out in small doses.
. Integrate Social-Emotional Learning
Children with trauma benefit immensely from the social-emotional learning (SEL) techniques. Through this process, you help a student develop self-awareness, self-control, effective communication, and listening. According to the 2017 trends, students in SEL programs performed at least 13 percentile points higher than their peers. So, the more you expose students to helpful techniques, the more they adopt them and start using them in class and in their personal lives.
Research shows that about 12% of children suffer abuse and neglect, interfering with their thinking. Dealing with their muddled sense of reality, children with trauma end up gaslighting or second-guessing themselves. They may not believe in their thoughts and emotions and need your help making sense of them.
Tell them what they think and feel is valid through positive affirmation and constant praises. Help these students build their self-esteem by assigning them responsibilities without adding pressure. If a student is non-verbal, you can draw an emotion chart and encourage them to express how they feel. For example, if a child is a good writer, tell them to write more and journal their thoughts to discuss with them when the child is comfortable.
. Integrate Trauma Sensitive Training
Trauma-sensitive teaching accounts for all potential triggers and can impact a child’s well-being by giving them healthy coping mechanisms. Children with trauma may react intensely to specific images, words, and videos. They can hyperventilate, become aggressive or even start trembling in class. As a teacher, you must mind these triggers and build solutions into your lectures.
While giving a lecture on sensitive subjects, make sure you talk to your students about what the content contains. Unless necessary, flashing images and loud images should never appear without a disclaimer. You should inform a student they can skip the lecture or walk out of the class into a recess room if they need to cope.
Make sure you keep sufficient gaps between each slide on your presentation and call these sessions breathing spaces. These encourage your students to exercise deep breathing and reassure them they’re safe and secure.
. Make Some Time for Yourself
Working with children who have trauma can get stressful. It may take an incredible mental, emotional and physical effort on your end to cater to your students’ needs. While the work you do is brave, supportive, and the epitome of an empathetic teacher, you also need time to recoup.
When you get regularly exposed to students with trauma, you can experience burnout. According to a study by Seton Hall University, 30% of teachers leave the profession within three years while dealing with traumatized children. That doesn’t mean these teachers don’t care – they just don’t manage their own well-being to sustain themselves.
Make time for yourself by checking in with a therapist often. If you need time off, go on a holiday. You can also work with the school to introduce healthy policies or start a support group for teachers to discuss their troubles. Ignoring your health may make it hard for you to help your students, and that serves no one.
Trauma can happen to anyone and stems from a vicious cycle of abuse and neglect. Students struggling with trauma need help to find their center again. As a teacher, you can help them deflect their outburst through a structured approach and assisting students in channeling their energy into safe outlets.
It would help if you took time to develop sensitive lectures and discuss them in an open and friendly environment to prevent your student from feeling cornered. However, while looking after students, don’t forget to take care of yourself. Your health and well-being matter too. So, with these measures, you can connect with your students and gradually pull them from the shackles of their pain.