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How Teachers Can Respond To Trauma in Students

Trauma is a natural emotional response to a horrific or horrible event in someone’s life. This could be a medical emergency, an accident, assault, abuse, or a natural disaster. 

This can lead to symptoms of anxiety, PTSD, and depression, where sufferers may struggle with flashbacks, panic attacks, unpredictable emotions, and even physical symptoms such as nausea or rapid heartbeat. And trauma can happen to people of all ages, including school-age youth.

But, as a teacher, how do you know if students are suffering the effects of trauma? Let’s look at the signs and symptoms of trauma to see what teachers can do to respond and support students. 

Signs of Trauma

Most of the time, trauma has a psychological effect on people. This can lead to shock, disbelief, denial, or confusion, whereas others may become angry, irritable, moody, or even guilty or ashamed of what happened. 

For others, it can link to symptoms of depression and PTSD, where they may withdraw from others, feel persistently sad or hopeless, and feel disconnected or numb to everything and everyone around them. 

A distressing event can not only lead to emotional trauma, but physiological trauma, too. For instance, individuals may suffer from physical symptoms such as headaches, rapid heartbeat, sweating, trembling, or panic attacks.  

The signs of trauma are different, as everyone’s experiences are different. However, for many people, the common signs are flashbacks, nightmares, intrusive thoughts, disorientation, loss of memory, or the inability to focus. 

How Teachers Can Respond To Trauma in Students

As a teacher, you are responsible for supporting students in their academic growth. Teachers can also be a support system and a person of trust for some students who do not receive support elsewhere. So, what can you do as a teacher to respond to trauma in students? 

The difficulty is knowing whether it’s bad behavior or whether a student is reacting to trauma. Think about how your students respond to you. Are they defiant, alienated from other students, irritable? Do they struggle to concentrate? Do they exhibit controlling or perfectionistic behavior? Are they physically or verbally aggressive?

These could be signs that a student is struggling with trauma. In order to positively and proactively respond to students with trauma, it is paramount that you follow these steps. 

Create A Safe Space

The classroom needs to be an emotional, physical, and socially safe place to be. When a student is suffering from trauma, bullying, or social isolation, they may feel unsafe and not know how to act or behave.

Make sure you intervene in potentially harmful or hurtful situations and ensure that you can listen and support when needed. 

Manage Behavior

Instead of the usual ‘zero tolerance’ attitude, try to implement stress management tools so that students know how to control their emotions and feelings in a healthy way, where stress can be processed safely. 

Educate Yourself

It is so important that you educate yourself about what trauma is and how it can manifest in various ways, depending on the student. Connect with your students and ensure they have the knowledge and resources they need to feel supported through their trauma. 

Be Mindful—Block Triggers

You should also keep a trigger list- of anything that sparks negative feelings or emotions. Check in with students to ensure these are up to date so that you can limit those triggers within your teaching curriculum. 

Deep Breathing Exercises

Starting your lesson with deep breathing exercises can ensure that everyone, including yourself, feels calm and relaxed, ready to take on anything. 

Encourage Therapy

Finally, it is important that you encourage your students to speak to us for guidance through trauma therapy.

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Green Heart Therapy provides in-person psychotherapy for adults, teens, and children in Los Angeles and online therapy across California.