The Trauma Informed Classroom
Using Emotional Regulatory Healing in the Schools
Written by: Denise Rice (written originally as Leffingwell) MSW, LCSW, LAC; Article published in Fostering Families Today magazine 2013
FACT: One out of every 4 children attending school has been exposed to a traumatic event that can affect learning and/or behavior. (NCTSN: Child Trauma Toolkit for Educators 2008)
In order to understand the importance of trauma, it is only necessary to look around the world in which our children are growing. In an age when a child can witness violence just by turning on the television, listening to music, playing a video game or logging onto the internet, it is no longer possible to ignore that our culture of violence affects every child, every family, every teacher, every classroom and every school.
FACT: Trauma can impact school performance. Examples include: lower GPA, higher rate of school absences, increased drop-out, more suspensions and expulsions and decreased reading ability. (NCTSN: Child Trauma Toolkit for Educators 2008)
Our classrooms are full of traumatized children who require a trauma informed and a trauma sensitive approach, in order to effectively meet the student where they are at. Emotional Regulatory Healing, or ERH, is a trauma informed and mindful paradigm for the healing of our schools, our classrooms, our staff and our students. The objective of utilizing ERH as a trauma informed paradigm in the schools is to provide:
Physical Safety in the classroom
Emotional Safety in the classroom
Psychological Safety in the classroom &
Moral Safety in the classroom in an effort to increase the capacity for learning in a safe environment for all students.
In addition, a trauma informed and sensitive environment in the schools is one that maximizes the student’s sense of safety and acceptance, reduces overwhelming emotions, decreases the sensory overload for students and provides ongoing education and training for all staff on the impact of trauma as it relates to development and relationships.
FACT: Trauma can impair learning. Single exposure to traumatic events may cause jumpiness, intrusive thoughts, interrupted sleep, moodiness and social withdrawal. Chronic exposure to traumatic events can adversely affect attention, memory and cognition; reduce a child’s ability to focus and organize; interfere with problem solving and may result in feelings of frustration and anxiety. (NCTSN: Child Trauma Toolkit for Educators 2008)
Building a trauma sensitive environment is a never-ending, evolving and creative process that has the power to change the life of everyone involved. Just as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a committed and united trauma sensitive education system to provide the opportunity for wounded children to learn, heal and thrive.
A traumatic experience impacts the entire person—the way we think, learn, remember, the way we feel about ourselves, about other people, and the way that we make sense of the world…
The childhood reaction to trauma:
Trauma affects how children feel, behave and think. Trauma affects a child’s beliefs about themselves and adults, but also impacts their beliefs about the larger community, the world, and relationships. Trauma and chronic traumatic stress interrupt a child’s learning, overriding their higher level reasoning skills at a time when they are just developing. Regardless of the source of the traumatic stress, the outcome is the same. Children develop reasoning and behavior that is illogical and sometimes dangerous.
FACT: Traumatized children may experience physical and emotional distress. This may include headaches and stomachaches, poor impulse control, inconsistent academic performance, over or under-reacting to bells, physical contact, slamming doors, lighting or sudden movements. (NCTSN: Child Trauma Toolkit for Educators 2008)
Children who have experienced trauma develop coping mechanisms during times of increased stress and trauma, many of which are later viewed as unhealthy or maladaptive, but these mechanisms or strategies are what kept these children alive when they were faced with fear and threat. These mechanisms have a lasting impact on how children understand and respond to various situations throughout their lives.
Think of these mechanisms as “tools” that traumatized children carry with them through their life in an invisible suitcase. These tools are all the children know and when they enter a new home, classroom, family or situation, the children will open their suitcase and grab a tool to help them survive or cope. Think about what tools might be in some student’s backpacks? If we want to create an educational environment that is trauma sensitive ask yourself, “How can we re-pack this suitcase with safe, positive experiences?” and “How can we promote healing and resilience in the student by helping them feel safe, capable and likeable/loveable?”
Understanding how children respond to trauma is the basis for creating a place of sanctuary in which children can learn. Creating safety and security in the schools is only possible when we all understand the nature of both individual and organizational trauma. Everyone in the entire school system must actively work together to build and nurture a community and environment where healing and learning can thrive hand in hand.
In summary, here are some TIPS, Trauma Informed Proactive Strategies, for Educators and the school systems:
- Educators recognize that dysregulated students can engage in the learning process only when they sense emotional and physical safety and security.
- Educators are aware that a child who is in a state of fear or threat does not have the neurological, cognitive nor emotional ability to understand cause and effect.
- Educators understand that behaviors are an external manifestation of an internal dysregulation. Calm the brain, calm the behavior!
- Educators appreciate that students who have experienced trauma need to be in relationship with regulated adults who can help support the students own regulation.
- Educators recognize the importance of creating an environment with soft lighting, opportunities for movement, and decreased sensory stimulation with the goal of calming the stress response system in the student’s brain.
- Educators are aware of the healing power in relationships. Students who have been traumatized in the context of a relationship will only heal in relationship!
- Educators understand that students who have experienced trauma will be more in tune with the teacher’s non-verbal cues than spoken words. Facial expressions, tone of voice, and body movements provide a traumatized student with fear or safety. Learning how to create safety non-verbally is easy, effective and healing for both the teacher and the student.
- Educators are aware of secondary or vicarious trauma symptoms and how important it is to re-examine their own lens through which they see, respond to and understand traumatized children. I cannot give away that which is not mine to give!
For more information on Emotional Regulatory Healing, or ERH, go to www.alvaradoconsultinggroup.com. You can reach Denise Rice at DeniseRice@hotmail.com