What are viable ways to ensure a safe environment for students with traumatic childhoods?

Why is this even important?

A bit of context

Students with trauma everywhere have been struggling with adapting to their academic environment due to the lack of proper structure in their classrooms. Study shows that “Roughly 26 percent of children in the United States witness or experience a trauma before the age of 4.” (Briggs-Gowan et al. 2010) Childhood trauma affects academic experience to various extents, yet most schools lack the necessary framework to support them through their learning. The current standard allows strangers to walk into the classroom unannounced, provides a clustered sitting arrangement, utilizes bright light, can be subject to sudden loud noises and has insufficient flexibility in its disciplinary system. Therefore, this can be triggering to traumatized children because it can mimic the negative experiences they have previously had. This is why we need to implement certain standards that will consider their needs, abilities and possibly sensitivities.

How can we spot it?

How Trauma Affects Kids At School:

If any of these symptoms are present, they may be suffering with trauma and should be ‘tested’ and treated as soon as possible. It’s important to also note that symptoms of ongoing trauma can actually mimic those of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). 

What teachers can do

           A main issue is that schools will normally use disciplinary systems (punishing, removing previous positive recognition, losing patience and sometimes even yelling) instead of offering support and trying to solve the issue with the child. This is why we should teach teachers about an appropriate way of approaching and learning how to understand children’s behavior. Trying to change the child’s behavior directly, instead of punishing them. Most times, inappropriate behavior had underlying causes that aren’t simple to understand or easily noticeable. 

“Acknowledging and naming an emotion helps children move towards expressing it in a more appropriate way.”

(ChildMind Institute, 2020)

Remember to:

  • Try to maintain persistent routines for the kids, this could be by putting up a calendar on writing the schedule on the board. 
  • Inform the students if anything unexpected or out of the ordinary is about to happen. This is an extremely important factor of trauma informed learning because having an unexpected guest or construction near the classes might trigger a child’s stress response. 
  • Offer any support if there are difficult periods for the kid
  • Try to be affectionate and sympathetic with the kids, but remember to respect their boundaries since it is difficult to know what their triggers may be.
What schools can do

Replace their classrooms lights to a more neutral tone: Having the option to have dimmed lights instead of bright fluorescent ones. The blue tone that a lot of classrooms have aren’t very welcoming and don’t bring comfort to the kids. If changing the bulbs isn’t accessible, teachers can try to only turn on a row of lights to make more natural light shine in. 

Creating a comfortable corner in each classroom: Having a place in the room with a couch, cushions, stuffed animals and more is a key factor of a trauma informed environment. This is useful because many traumatized kids will come to school nervous and stressed, which is why having a cozy corner will give them some space to calm down before class begins or even in the middle of class if they really need it. 

Better seating arrangements: Having flexible seating will allow each student to choose a seat where they will feel more comfortable, which will help them learn more efficiently. Some kids need to be doing something to focus so having yoga balls, wobble stools or even rocking chairs as an option for the students will help the class be more concentrated.

Conclusion!

Now it’s time for you to take action! What policies would you put in place to help create a trauma informed environment at your school? Click on the button below and answer a few questions as form to reflect upon your new found knowledge!

Leave your thoughts and feedback down below! Finally, here is my Works Cited. Thank you for reading.

9 comments

  1. Emmi Pinch

    Hi Laura!
    I really enjoyed your presentation, it was easy to follow and I love your use of colors/infographics as well as information! I knew nothing about this topic or even that it existed so its great that you were able to bring such an important and overlooked issue to light! Personally, to create a trauma informed environment at my school, I would focus on resources for students like counselors and safe spaces but also I would consider the material in classrooms. I know that theres a lot of sensitive topics like in books, history, etc and I think its important to make sure the students feel safe and comfortable so as not to cause any harm. Great project!

  2. Melina Piazza

    Laura, I think it is especially admirable of you to be focusing on such a sensitive subject that is often avoided, and your focus on younger students is a great approach. The fact that “26 percent of children in the United States witness or experience trauma before the age of four” is both extremely shocking and saddening. Further, I had no idea that trauma had an impact on executive functioning, making their learning experience similar to those of students with ADHD. I think my school has put in a lot of effort this year to remove triggering academic materials in the curriculum, but I feel like there is still room for improvement in casual conversations. Oftentimes, jokes may not be received in the intended tone and can unintentionally be very harmful to one’s mental health. I think simply being more careful about the language used in casual conversations could make a big difference.

  3. Madelyn_233

    Hey Laura!

    I love your subject matter. It is never a project I would’ve thought to do, but It is so relevant to our modern society. I would love to talk to you individually on how we could collaborate with our two different projects. I mainly focused on how learning differences could lead people into being incarcerated, but I am sure trauma causes many incarcerations. Like you said about ADHD, trauma and learning differences often come hand in hand. If you don’t mind, I would actually like to share some of your research with teachers at my school to best help students who have experienced trauma. I think many of my teachers would love to implement your cozy spaces and more welcoming lights!

    1. Laura_228

      Hi Maddy! I’m would be more than happy to speak to you about some initiatives we can take together. In relation to you sharing my research with your local community, please do! If you have any questions or want more information about this subject, please contact me!

  4. Layla

    Hi Laura! This is such an important topic and is something I really didn’t know much about. This is definitely something that should be talked about more! Really great work. What is something (positive or negative) you have seen in your school?
    -Layla

    1. Laura_228

      Hi Layla! Thank you for commenting. In regards to your question, while I was researching about this project I found myself repeatedly reflecting on what my school has done to combat this issue. Fortunately, I have noticed a lot of changes they have implemented in school grounds throughout the years. My school went through a lot of remodeling and they actually implemented dimmer lights, a cozy nook and better seating arrangements (with yoga balls, etc.)! I was pleasantly surprised to know that they were most likely doing this to create a safer place for us students. Of course, there is still a lot of room for improvement but overall I am very proud that they have done this. Thank you so much for the question.

  5. Idia

    Hi Laura,

    Great work! I enjoyed exploring your page, and reading about the compelling points and arguments.I think it is great that you are focusing on this topic and trying to help accommodate or help kids suffering from severe trauma to recover. I also like how you have mentioned numerous ways for both the school and teachers to help, along with recognizing signs that their student may be in need of help. I like how you brought up the fact that it is important for a student to feel comfortable in class, as I feel like some teachers do not acknowledge this, conversely also think that schools and teachers should begin to incorporate safe/comfortable spaces into their classrooms and common areas. My question for you is, have you ever had a personal experience where you met someone in school who was suffering from trauma but it went somewhat unnoticed? If so, how did you deal with the situation?

  6. Idia

    Hi Laura,

    Great work! I enjoyed exploring your page, and reading about the compelling points and arguments.I think it is great that you are focusing on this topic and trying to help accommodate or help kids suffering from severe trauma to recover. I also like how you have mentioned numerous ways for both the school and teachers to help, along with recognizing signs that their student may be in need of help. My question for you is, have you ever had a personal experience where you met someone in school who was suffering from trauma but it went somewhat unnoticed?

    1. Laura

      Hi Idia! Im glad you liked my page. In regards to your question, while researching about this topic I had a lot of time to understand the issues within daily interaction with students and how that may trigger previous traumatic experience. In terms of my own experiences, I do definitely think that a lot of times we tend to look at traumatic experiences very lightheartedly, which can be extremely damaging to both parties. Looking back, I think I could have done more when someone told be about something very sensitive about themselves. I would love to search a bit more about how I should react when encountered with this situation in my future. Thank you so much for the question!

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