Back to School with Traumatized Students: What Do We Tell New Teachers?
By: Jen Alexander, MA, NCC, RPT
It’s back to school time for all of us. It can be overwhelming to think about what to tell this year’s teachers about our children. What’s too much? What’s too little? The answers, of course, are different for everyone, but here are some ideas to think about sharing.
Educators need to know that trauma negatively impacts youth biologically, emotionally, behaviorally, cognitively, socially, and it can affect one’s sense of self as well. It leaves children at risk for a variety of physical health problems, emotional concerns, behavior problems, relationship difficulties, and compromised learning.
Traumatized students are in every single classroom, every day. In fact, we know from the ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) studies that at least 1 in 4 students across the country have been traumatized. The effects can be immediate, delayed, or long-lasting, but there are things we can do to help youth begin to heal.
We can start by looking at how important it is for parents and educators to better understand the needs of traumatized students and then, work together to create trauma-sensitive schools (TSS), which I believe are charged with helping students:
1) Feel safe
2) Be connected
3) Get regulated
4) And, learn
Importantly, these tasks must be tended to in that order. Only when students feel safe, connected and are emotionally regulated, are their brains ready to learn. Caring then about academic achievement means tending to students’ social/emotional needs first. Truly, “Students don’t care how much we know until they know we care.” – Anonymous
When it comes to talking with children’s teachers, consider sharing ideas specific to your child that are associated with the first three tasks of TSS. What helps your child feel safe? Who does your child already feel connected with at school and how can that person help at the beginning of the year? Or, what suggestions do you have for a new teacher who wants to build a relationship with your child? What strategies help your child regulate? If educators new to our children know these things in the beginning, we will be less likely to overwhelm them with too much information, and they will be well on their way to a great start to the year with our kids.
Want to learn more? Check out this hand-out we created for the Attachment and Trauma Network‘s presentation at the NACAC conference in California. Together, we are on our way to creating trauma-sensitive schools across the country!