Dr. Susan Craig: Integrating Trauma Sensitive Best Practices in Your Classroom

October 14, 2014

by:  Gari Lister

Through Wednesday, ATN is keeping open several of the most-requested interviews presented as part of its Educating Traumatized Children Summit, and we in the Blog want to help keep readers talking, so for the next several days we will highlight several other interviews.  This one is a must-know for teachers, but it’s helpful for parents too!

Dr. Susan Craig: Integrating Trauma Sensitive Best Practices in Your Classroom

Dr. Craig specializes in training teachers on how to deal with traumatized children, and in her interview she asserts that every teacher has several children who have been abused whether they know it or not. She describes how traumatized children might act in a classroom, and explains a little bit about why classrooms can be so challenging for them. Among other points, she argues that most aggression in young children is fear-based.

This interview is really a must-hear for teachers. Dr. Craig explains that the plasticity of the brain means that teachers can make an ENORMOUS difference to traumatized children.

She also offers specific tips on how teachers can manage their classrooms to help traumatized children succeed. Here are a just a few of her tips for teachers:

  • Understand your own trauma background — your emotional baggage may come into play in the classroom.
  • Recognize that children will often instinctively set up a dynamic with teachers akin to their parental relationships, so they may act from the beginning to set up rejection.
  • Neutral, fair teachers are best for traumatized children. It can be tempting for teachers to try to bond with them, but often such a bond will be more than the children can handle.
  • Understand that traumatized children often lack core concepts; they have a misplaced sense of cause and effect, and think they can’t do anything right.
  • Give children in a melt-down time to recover by letting them draw, listen to music or journal; don’t try to talk to them about the behavior until later.
  • Spend a few minutes helping children regulate in the beginning of class.
  • Manage “double struggle” — you can’t de-escalate the behavior of a child who is out of control if you are out of control — so if a child gets to you, take a break.
  • Pay attention to your tone and facial expressions; traumatized children often interpret a lack of emotional effect as negative and will be very sensitive to a harsh voice.
  • Pay attention to the volume in the classroom; silent classrooms can be very difficult for children who have been abused.
  • Develop a written or pictorial depiction of classroom expectations (even for older children).
  • Role playing will not only achieve the perspective required for common core; it will help children learn empathy.

All great ideas for teachers, but also important for parents to consider.  Dr. Craig’s blog can be found here.


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