By Natasha Coleman
You may have heard Oprah talk about kids who have experienced trauma or watched Ted Talks featuring doctors who talk about the negative effects of trauma on kids. It is an issue that is increasingly rising and we need to bring more awareness to it. Children are experiencing trauma at a very young age, leading to lasting negative effects on them. While it is difficult to determine whether children have experienced trauma, it is important to note that they are in our schools and in our neighborhoods. Students who have experienced trauma can often be identified as students with “behavior issues.” Trauma shows up as frustration, heightened emotions, acting out, difficulty concentrating, difficulty working with others, anxiety, or sometimes silence.
Knowing if a student has experienced trauma can be vital to helping him or her deal with the repercussions of the trauma. We first want to make sure that the child is safe and not experiencing traumatic events on an ongoing basis. What may not seem like a big deal to you, may be a big deal to children who have seen and experienced much more than they are ready to discuss with others. When they experience something traumatic, they are carrying that around with them all day and night. The more traumatic experiences children have, the greater effect those experiences can have on them. Trauma may include neglect, violence, abuse, loss of residency, family stress, or the loss of a family member.
Children who have experienced trauma need to feel safe and comforted. They need people willing to reassure them that they are a safe space and to operate on their behalf to secure safety in their personal environment. Children who experience trauma may have heightened stress levels, so trying to minimize stress for them is best. Students who have experienced trauma may have difficulty with self-regulating. Having frequent breaks for them can be beneficial. Lastly, we must change our mindset and express empathy toward these children instead of blindly blaming them for what we deem as inappropriate or unacceptable behavior. It is important to know that there is a reason behind all behaviors, as educators and parents it is our duty to determine the “why” behind the behaviors and serve as a support to the students and choose restorative actions over punitive ones.