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10 Things About Childhood Trauma Every Teacher Needs to Know

CASA of San Luis Obispo posted a great article sponsored by the National Institute for Trauma and Loss in Children.  Please consider these things when interacting with children who have experienced trauma. No child is inherently “bad”. We are all products of our environment. CASA volunteers have a very special role to play while advocating for these vulnerable children.

With grief, sadness is obvious. With trauma, the symptoms can go largely unrecognized because it shows up looking like other problems: frustration, acting out, difficulty concentrating, following directions or working in a group. Often students are misdiagnosed with anxiety, behavior disorders or attention disorders, rather than understanding the trauma that’s driving those symptoms and reactions.

For children who have experienced trauma, learning can be a big struggle. But once trauma is identified as the root of the behavior, we can adapt our approach to help kids cope when they’re at school. Detroit-based clinical director of the National Institute for Trauma and Loss in Children, a program of the Starr Global Learning Network, Caelan Kuban Soma offers these tips for understanding kids who have been through trauma, plus strategies for helping them. You can also check out our video: What Every Teacher Needs to Know About Childhood Trauma.

1. Kids who have experienced trauma aren’t trying to push your buttons.
If a child is having trouble with transitions or turning in a folder at the beginning of the day, remember that children may be distracted because of a situation at home that is causing them to worry. Instead of reprimanding children for being late or forgetting homework, be affirming and accommodating by establishing a visual cue or verbal reminder to help that child. “Switch your mind-set and remember the kid who has experienced trauma is not trying to push your buttons,” says Soma.

2. Kids who have been through trauma worry about what’s going to happen next.
A daily routine in the classroom can be calming, so try to provide structure and predictability whenever possible. Since words may not sink in for children who go through trauma, they need other sensory cues, says Soma. Besides explaining how the day will unfold, have signs or a storyboard that shows which activity—math, reading, lunch, recess, etc.—the class will do when.

3. Even if the situation doesn’t seem that bad to you, it’s how the child feels that matters.
Try not to judge the trauma. As caring teachers, we may unintentionally project that a situation isn’t really that bad, but how the child feels about the stress is what matters most. “We have to remember it’s the perception of the child … the situation is something they have no control over, feeling that their life or safety is at risk,” says Soma. It may not even be just one event, but the culmination of chronic stress—for example, a child who lives in poverty may worry about the family being able to pay rent on time, keep their jobs or have enough food. Those ongoing stressors can cause trauma. “Anything that keeps our nervous system activated for longer than four to six weeks is defined as post-traumatic stress,” says Soma.

4. Trauma isn’t always associated with violence.
Trauma is often associated with violence, but kids also can suffer trauma from a variety of situations—like divorce, a move, or being overscheduled or bullied. “All kids, especially in this day and age, experience extreme stress from time to time,” says Soma. “It is more common than we think.”

5. You don’t need to know exactly what caused the trauma to be able to help.
Instead of focusing on the specifics of a traumatic situation, concentrate on the support you can give children who are suffering. “Stick with what you are seeing now—the hurt, the anger, the worry,” Soma says, rather than getting every detail of the child’s story. Privacy is a big issue in working with students suffering from trauma, and schools often have a confidentiality protocol that teachers follow. You don’t have to dig deep into the trauma to be able to effectively respond with empathy and flexibility.

6. Kids who experience trauma need to feel they’re good at something and can influence the world.
Find opportunities that allow kids to set and achieve goals, and they’ll feel a sense of mastery and control, suggests Soma. Assign them jobs in the classroom that they can do well or let them be a peer helper to someone else. “It is very empowering,” says Soma. “Set them up to succeed and keep that bar in the zone where you know they are able to accomplish it and move forward.” Rather than saying a student is good at math, find experiences to let him or her feel it. Because trauma is such a sensory experience, kids need more than encouragement—they need to feel their worth through concrete tasks.

7. There’s a direct connection between stress and learning.
When kids are stressed, it’s tough for them to learn. Create a safe, accepting environment in your classroom by letting children know you understand their situation and support them. “Kids who have experienced trauma have difficulty learning unless they feel safe and supported,” says Soma. “The more the teacher can do to make the child less anxious and have the child focus on the task at hand, the better the performance you are going to see out of that child. There is a direct connection between lowering stress and academic outcomes.”

8. Self-regulation can be a major challenge for students suffering from trauma.
Some kids with trauma are growing up with emotionally unavailable parents and haven’t learned to self-soothe, so they may develop distracting behaviors and have trouble staying focused for long periods. To help them cope, schedule regular brain breaks. Tell the class at the beginning of the day when there will be breaks—for free time, to play a game or to stretch. “If you build it in before the behavior gets out of whack, you set the child up for success,” says Soma. A child may be able to make it through a 20-minute block of work if it’s understood there will be a break to recharge before the next task.

9. It’s OK to ask kids point-blank what you can do to help them make it through the day.
For all students with trauma, you can ask them directly what you can do to help. They may ask to listen to music with headphones or put their head on their desk for a few minutes. Soma says, “We have to step back and ask them, ‘How can I help? Is there something I can do to make you feel even a little bit better?’”

10. You can support kids with trauma even when they’re outside your classroom.
Loop in the larger school. Share trauma-informed strategies with all staff, from bus drivers to parent volunteers to crossing guards. Remind everyone: “The child is not his or her behavior,” says Soma. “Typically there is something underneath that driving that to happen, so be sensitive. Ask yourself, ‘I wonder what’s going on with that kid?’ rather than saying, ‘What’s wrong with the kid?’ That’s a huge shift in the way we view kids.”


Jog a Thon Raises $4,900 for must! charities

The Children’s House Montessori Jog A Thon was held on November 18th – this annual event teaches the kids about giving back to their community while also getting them outdoors jogging! CHMS has a built in buddy system at their school where younger kids are partnered with older kids on campus. This year the students wanted to partner with must! charities to support their Big Brother’s Big Sister’s Project, so they could be sure those kids who needed a “Big Buddy” in their community had the opportunity to get one because they know the value of what it means to have or be a Big Buddy.
When asked what having a “Big Buddy” is like for them, here were some of the students’ responses:
“It feels good to know that someone cares about me.”
“It’s nice to have a friend who looks out for me.”
“It feels good to help others.”
“I feel safe and cared for around my Big Buddy.”
“My Big Buddy helps me with things I need help with.”
“They are always there when I need them.”
“He gives me good advice.”
“I like being a Big Buddy because it feels good to be there for someone else and care about them.”
These kids at CHMS have the benefit of having a Big Buddy system and they experience the same things that those Bigs and Littles involved in our Big Brothers Big Sisters Community Mentor Program experience.
Thanks Children’s House Montessori School for working so hard on the Jog-a-Thon and for Giving Back to others in our community!

Tablas Creek’s Must! Month = $38k Over Five Years

For five consecutive years, Tablas Creek Vineyard has committed to must! Month during December and as a result has raised $38,000 over the course of the promotion. 100% of these funds go directly to programs that benefit the youth in Northern San Luis Obispo County. Thank YOU to partners like Tablas Creek Vineyard who make a difference!


What is Mentoring Month?

You see it everywhere, but what is National Mentoring Month and why should we care?  Let’s start with the basics: National Mentoring Month is a campaign held each January to promote youth mentoring in the United States. It was inaugurated in 2002, and is spearheaded by the Harvard School of Public Health, MENTOR, and the Corporation for National and Community Service.

Now for the WHY we should care.  One in three people are growing up in America without a mentor.  That means a third of our youth are growing up without a mentor to offer real-life guidance.  With a mentor, at risk youth are:

  • 52% less likely than their peers to skip a day of school
  • 55% more likely to be enrolled in college
  • 46% less likely than their peers to start using drugs
  • 81% more likely to participate regularly in sports or extracurricular activities
  • 78% more likely to volunteer regularly to their communities
  • 130% more than twice as likely to say that they held a leadership position in a club or sports team
  • 90% are interested in becoming mentors themselves

must! charities currently supports two mentoring projects: Big Brothers Big Sisters and CASA.

Big Brothers Big Sisters – Big Brothers Big Sisters’ one-to-one mentoring services are proven to help children overcome adversity and beat the odds. Big Brothers Big Sisters is the nation’s largest donor and volunteer supported mentoring network. The University of Colorado’s Center for Study and Prevention of Violence found that Big Brothers Big Sisters mentoring program is one of 11 outstanding violence and drug prevention programs that meet a high scientific standard of effectiveness.

CASA – Although CASA of San Luis Obispo County serves abused and neglected children throughout San Luis Obispo County, the need in the North County continues to be significant in terms of the number of children being served and the number on the waitlist to be assigned a CASA volunteer.Of the 460 children under the jurisdiction of the court countywide, 180 are from the North County (40%). CASA currently serves 60 of these children, with 120 remaining on the waitlist.

So now we know the what and why.  If you are interested in helping must! charities support mentoring projects in Northern San Luis Obispo, 100% of your donation goes directly to projects.  Call 805.226.5788 for more information or donate today.


Success Story: Big Brothers Big Sisters of San Luis Obispo

Big Brother Lucas and Little Brother Anthony

Anthony knows his father lives in SLO County, but he has never met him. His mom, a pre-school teacher, hoped a Big Brother would teach him how to make friends and be more social. Big Brother Lucas made a positive impact on Anthony from the first moment they met. “This is how you shake hands,” he said, “give me a firm grip, stand up straight and look me in the eye like you mean it.”

From that moment on, Anthony has tried to imitate Lucas in every way. Anthony feels honored to be having such an influence. Whether they are talking to a waitress, volunteering at a beach clean-up or visiting the Big Brother’s office, Anthony always tries to show Lucas how to be considerate of others and proud of himself.

Just 7 months into the match, Anthony no longer gets in trouble for being disruptive in class. He is excelling in school, especially in Spanish, which he practices with his bilingual Big Brother. When Lucas picked Anthony up from study group the other day, he found him playing a board game with another student, instead of reading in the corner by himself as usual. Anthony explains, “When I’m not sure what to do in a situation, I just think of Lucas saying ‘This is how cowboys do it’ and then I try to do what he would do.”

*Names and identifying details have been changed to protect the identity of both the child and volunteer