Helping Traumatized Children in the Classroom

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

When children have experienced traumatic events, it can be difficult to know how to relate to them properly. This lesson will give you some ideas about your role as a teacher in helping traumatized children in the classroom.

What Is Trauma?

Ms. Keefe was one month into the school year when a new fifth grader, Kaylee, joined her class. Right away, Ms. Keefe could see that Kaylee was struggling. It wasn't necessarily a matter of academic competence, but Kaylee often seemed sad or just disconnected from the rest of the students.

Ms. Keefe talked to the guidance counselor and learned that Kaylee was from a foster family and little was known about her early experiences. However, it seemed fairly clear that Kaylee was a victim of trauma, or events so difficult that they have an adverse effect on a person's psyche and might be hard to properly process or describe.

Ms. Keefe decided she really wanted to help Kaylee, but Kaylee resisted her efforts and closeness and began acting out, disrupting the class and even acting aggressive toward other students. Ms. Keefe realized it was time for her to learn more about trauma and how to help a traumatized student in the classroom context.

Be a Listener

Ms. Keefe learned from doing some research that when she worked with Kaylee, she would need to be an active listener, listening to clues that might go beyond what Kaylee was able to actually say. She learned that the following things might help a traumatized child feel heard:

  • Echoing the child's language

When talking to a traumatized child, use the same words they are using to show that you heard them and respect their boundaries.

  • Make eye contact even when they won't

When teaching traumatized children, keep your eyes on them, but don't be put off or offended if they are reluctant to make contact back. These children might take a long time to really trust you as an adult.

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