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

Mental Health and Human Rights Info (MHHRI) Newsletter October 2021
MHHRI provides information about mental health and human rights violations


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

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.


Further reading and resources:

Psychological First Aid. Field operations guide.
National Child Traumatic Stress Network & National Center for PTSD
Page 80: Talking with children about the bodyly  and emotional reactions.
Children vary in their capacity to make connections between events and emotions. Many children will benefit from a basic explanation of how disaster-related experiences produce upsetting emotions and physical sensations. Suggestions for working with children are listed.

Trauma-Informed Strategies to Use in Your Classroom
Resilient Educator
Research has shown that traumatic experiences alter the brain and can affect children socially, emotionally, behaviorally, and academically. Toxic levels of stress and anxiety shape behavior and may make kids appear angry, depressed, checked out, uncooperative, or distracted, says psychologist Jamie Howard, PhD, of the Child Mind Institute in New York City. “When you adopt a trauma-informed perspective, you approach that student’s behavior with openness and curiosity,” she says.

Trauma-Informed Teaching Strategies
Association 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 haven’t learned to express emotions healthily and instead show their distress through aggression, avoidance, shutting down, or other off-putting behaviors. These actions can feel antagonistic to teachers who don’t understand the root cause of the student’s behavior, which can lead to misunderstandings, ineffective interventions, and missed learning time.
Neurobiologically, students can’t learn if they don’t feel safe, known, and cared for within their schools (Aupperle et al., 2012). When teachers are proactive and responsive to the needs of students suffering from traumatic stress and make small changes in the classroom that foster a feeling of safety, it makes a huge difference in their ability to learn.

The Psychological First Aid for Schools Field Operations Guide
National Child Traumatic Stress Network & National Center for PTSD
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 caused by emergencies, and to foster short- and long-term adaptive functioning and coping.

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


Download the MHHRI GBV manual

Download the manual Mental health and gender-based violence: Helping survivors of sexual violence in conflict for free from our GBV web page. The manual is also available in ArabicRussian, SpanishNepaleseUkrainian, and Portuguese. We have also created an online training on gender-based violence manual. This training material has been written for those who provide assistance and support to women who survive gender-based violence and sexual trauma during disasters, wars, and conflicts.  Furthermore, we hope it may be helpful as well to those who work with gender-based violence survivors in other settings. Please share the manual and spread it among your colleagues, organizations, or in your community.

Facebook and Instagram 
On our MHHRI Facebook page, and on Instagram we are continuously posting new and relevant articles that we add to our website, as well as events and videos.

Upcoming Events 

Webinar ”Peer workers perspective: Human rights in mental health and the importance of the role of peer workers in mental health care’’.
October 14th, 2021, 10:00 CET

Psychology in Action –
Promoting Equity and Justice in an Age of Uncertainty

Symposia on Climate Justice, Health Equity, Disabilities Justice, Decolonising Processes2 days of exploring psychology and human rights!
22-24. October 2021

ICMHLHR 2021: 15. International Conference on Mental Health Law and Human Rights
Online: October 28-29, 2021 in Paris, France

22nd Nordic Conference For Professionals
Working With Traumatised Refugees
Rescheduled 9-10.12.2021 | Helsinki, Finland

The 11th International Society for Health and Human Rights (ISHHR) Conference
All being well, the International Society for Health and Human Rights looks forward to welcoming you to the 11th ISHHR conference and program of capacity building in Medellin, Colombia 2022 (still in planning).
The ISHHR Conference and Capacity-Building Workshops will focus on themes relevant in a Colombian context, for both local and international participants, in cooperation with Región and Reconectando.

  • Strengthening Women’s Rights to Mental Health and Freedom from Violence – by changing behavior, practices and attitudes and facilitating safe and adequate care.
  • Supporting Human Rights Defenders who risk their lives in difficult and dangerous situations, side by side with families of victims of enforced disappearance and internally displaced (IDPs).
  • Treatment methods after traumatic human rights abuse. Remembering the body, promoting resilience; arts and culture, traditional and indigenous approaches.
  • Post-conflict reconciliation, reconstruction and re-socialisation Community mental health, justice human ecology, ethnic approaches to social action, empowerment and reconciliation.

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
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