Dear Educator, Part III
Here we are, the last of my three letters about childhood trauma. I appreciate you taking the time to read what I have to say. Here are my last pieces of trauma-sensitive teacher advice.
Kids with trauma need teachers to understand that emotional age does not always equal chronological age.
From day to day and from hour to hour, my child fluctuates in his ability to cope with the demands placed on him. Because of early childhood trauma, he sometimes regresses to earlier emotional ages, which could be anywhere from infancy up to his current chronological age. When my child is acting like a toddler in a meltdown, it’s most likely because he didn’t get what he needed to move through that developmental age appropriately.
Please remain patient and compassionate when those early traumas are triggered in your classroom. Accept and support him so that he can move through these episodes without feeling embarrassed or shamed
Kids with trauma need breaks and a variety of interesting activities.
If your classroom environment requires long, intense periods of sitting still, concentrating, and paying attention to your lessons and instructions, my child is going to have a hard time. Try to offer a variety of interesting, engaging activities. Also, allow for breaks between activities where kids can stretch their bodies, talk to friends without getting in trouble, and take a break from concentrating so hard. My child has a low window of tolerance for frustration, and his mind is full of anxiety and fear. Forcing him to sit still for long periods of time might cause his anxiety to increase, and creating some behaviors that will be disruptive.
You can help him stay on task by making the task challenging but not so challenging that he is exasperated and exhausted. If he needs a break, please allow him to take one. And make sure he has safe places and people to go to when he is feeling especially anxious.
Kids with trauma need their teachers and parents to communicate often and with an open mind.
Please listen to me and believe what I am telling you, even if it seems strange. My child might seem like a perfect angel to you at school, but this is a mask for the intense anxiety that he really feels. He holds it all in at school, then everything hits the fan at home. That or he might tell lies.
This is not my fault. It has nothing to do with my parenting. It is because he can only handle so much stress. It has to go somewhere, and it usually comes home, where I see explosive and aggressive behaviors that would cause immediate expulsion from school. I can’t expel my child from my family, nor would I want to. I know he is trying to survive.
I will never give up on him. You can help us by believing and not blaming me. Please be open to learning something new, rather than assume you’ve seen it all. I’d been teaching for over 20 years when I brought my child home. It was new to me.
Kids with trauma need our hope and optimism.
Believe me, my child will improve and progress over time with support. He feels unworthy of love and inadequate when it comes to most things in life, especially academics. Show him that you care about him and that you notice his effort, even if it’s not much right now.
Don’t give up on him. Give him the tools, strategies, modifications, and accommodations he needs to succeed. Help make this the best school year he has ever had.
Here’s the bottom line:
I am not an overprotective helicopter mom shielding her child from the harsh realities of life. The fact is, my child was adopted and grew up in an orphanage where he was neglected and didn’t get the nurturing and support he needed.
Besides, remember in my earlier letter, when I talked about 40% of the kids in your classroom dealing with ACES? That means that approximately 4 out of every 10 kids in your classroom have some level of trauma that affects their ability to feel safe and learn in your classroom. The reality is that there are many kids with trauma in your class and in your school, whether you are aware of them or not. Not all of them will tell you what’s going on, and you may or may not be communicating with their parents. Those children will also benefit from you coming alongside them to provide trauma-informed support.
I believe that early childhood trauma is the root of most of our society’s problems.
Our society and educational systems are sending kids with trauma the message that they are not worthy of our care and concern. Kids with trauma drop out of school in high numbers. Even if they graduate, they are at a much higher risk of having more challenges in life than they would be without traumatic early childhood experiences.
Some of these children are resilient and make it. Others do not. Consider the high incidence of childhood trauma in our inmate population. Together, we can make a tremendous difference in what happens the kids we have in our care today. We just need to open our hearts to a different way. As Josh Shipp, a former foster youth who is now a successful business owner and motivational speaker says, “Every kid is one caring adult away from being a success story.” You can be that adult.
Thank you so much for choosing to work in the field of education. You have a tough job, but as you know, the rewards of seeing children progress make the challenges worth it. We parents also have a tough job. We want to work with you, not against you, to succeed in raising well-educated, responsible, happy young people.
We –especially our kids with trauma– are counting on you.