Newsletter. Trauma-informed teaching: helping young students to cope

Newsletter No. 5 October 2021 Trauma-informed teaching: helping young students to cope

14.10 2021

Overview of content:

How trauma might be expressed
Responding to student’s trauma
Sharing what’s working with traumatized students
Further reading and resources
Download the MHHRI GBV manual
Upcoming Events


Acts of violence in war, conflict or natural disasters may be disorienting and overwhelming for anyone. Especially for young students experiencing such forms of situations, it is beneficial to mental health recovery to feel like they can cope with stress and adversity. One of the important protective factors is their access to supportive relationships, for example with teachers. To form the foundation of resilience, it is helpful if teachers have knowledge about children’s trauma reactions, and how to respond to them. According to NCTSN “Trauma-related distress can have a long-term impact if left untreated. Unaddressed mental health needs, including those from exposure to violence and other potentially traumatic events, increase dropout rates, lower academic achievement, disrupt peer relationships, and impact overall well-being.” Even though, do not assume that all students will be traumatized or want to talk about the incidents. Being physically present and understanding often helps children feel safer and more able to cope.

How trauma might be expressed

Trauma reactions can be expressed in many ways. Children in need of help may show signs of acute stress, including disorientation, confusion, anger, withdrawing, or acting frantic and agitated.

Children may not know why they react like this. If teachers are informed, they can recognize some of the psychological reactions and help the child understand what is happening and how to help the child to calm down the reaction.
When teachers approach students through a trauma lens, they are better equipped to provide the educational and social–emotional supports necessary to help students reach their potential. Also, being informed about ways to deal with trauma-related stress can create less frustration for both teachers and students.


Responding to student’s trauma

Traumatized children are likely to bring their fears into the classroom. If students start acting out, they may be seen as a problem and get punished. But punishment can contribute to the feeling of shame about their reactions and thus create more fear. Trauma informed teachers could instead see the behavior from a more curious point of view and ask themselves why the student is acting this way.
Setting up a “safe space” in the classroom, where triggered students can take short breaks, could help them calm down. Predictability and a stable teacher who follows through with what they say is a good starting point.
Some children may have flashbacks, which means that they feel like the terrible situation is happening all over again. Stress reactions like flashbacks can be frightening, and children may view their reactions as something being wrong with them.
Children’s capacity to make connections between events and emotions vary and a teacher explaining this connection can be helpful. If a child experiences flashbacks, teachers can, if appropriate, discuss the reactions and explain that these are normal reactions to an abnormal event.

Sharing what’s working with traumatized students

Some teachers manage to establish rich relationships with traumatized students and discover methods that work with specific children. The impact could be even greater if teachers wrote these methods and experiences down and shared those strategies via a shared document, behavior plan, or student success plan. Also, counselors, school nurses, and psychologists could write and share such techniques with each classroom teacher.
Recent studies have shown that trauma has a great impact on cognitive development, and that we have to focus on the importance of creating a safe learning environment. The Sustainable development goals (SDG) no. 4 indicates that to “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”,  we need teachers that are trauma informed in order to create a stimulating and learning school environment.

TED talks: Videos 

Trauma Informed Teaching | Dr. Meredith Fox | TEDxFieldstoneDriveED
The paradox of trauma-informed care | Vicky Kelly | TEDxWilmington
How teachers can help students navigate trauma | Lisa Godwin

Further readings and resources

Psychological First Aid: Field Operations Guide 2nd Edi...

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN)

An evidence-informed modular approach for assisting people in the immediate aftermath of disaster and terrorism: to reduce initial distress, and to foster short and long-term adaptive functioning. It is for use by disaster responders including first ...

Trauma-Informed Strategies to Use in Your Classroom

Resilience Educator

All children face disappointment and fears, but some students deal with more serious, often traumatic, hardships at home. The term “trauma” can encompass many situations, explains Lori Sanchez, Ed.D. “In the past, when you talked about a child experi...

Trauma-Informed Teaching Strategies

2019Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD)

Traumatized students are especially prone to difficulty in self-regulation, negative thinking, being on high alert, difficulty trusting adults, and inappropriate social interactions (Lacoe, 2013; Terrasi & de Galarce, 2017). They often haven̵...

The Psychological First Aid for Schools Field Operation...

2012National Child Traumatic Stress Network National Center for PTSD (NCTSN)

Psychological First Aid for Schools (PFA-S) is an evidence-informed intervention model to assist students, families, school personnel, and school partners in the immediate aftermath of an emergency. PFA-S is designed to reduce the initial distress ca...


All manuals can be downloaded from the MHHRI website

There are three different manuals, which respectively address working with women, with boys and men, and with children who have experienced sexual violence.

The manuals are translated into several languages. The page numbers in each manual remain the same across languages. This allows survivors and helpers to work from copies in their preferred language and read the same content on the same pages. It also makes it easier to teach participants when participants and trainers work in more than one language. The manuals include a toolbox. Survivors can use it individually to regulate their own emotions through grounding exercises or in collaboration with a helper. Helpers can also use grounding exercises to take care of themselves as helpers.

We appreciate feedback and comments 

The Mental Health and Human Rights Info Newsletter is a newsletter with the aim to provide insight on a certain subject across the scope of our work; human rights violations in war and conflict areas and mental health. Our intention is to deliver a newsletter as a short “lecture” where you can find relevant information regarding a specific subject with a mental health perspective.

We would appreciate your thoughts and suggestions on other issues you would like to see in this newsletter or if you are planning an event on related issues, please let us know so we can include your event in our newsletter.

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Take care – and wishing you all the best.

Sincerely yours,
Elisabeth Langdal, Sara Skilbred, Mónica Orjuela, the MHHRI team
Mental Health and Human Rights Info