Supporting Student Healing
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On this page you will find quick tips that we often don't consider, but that make a major difference in the social, academic, and cognitive functioning of our young survivors. Hover over each box to learn more!
Remember, not all events that are traumatic will result in trauma. Trauma is a response that may or may not happen when a child is exposed.
creating Predictability where you can
The child should be seated somewhere where they feel safe- usually, this means NOT having their back from the doors or where other students are. The child needs to know who is around them to increase their sense of safety. It is suggested to ask the student where they prefer to be seated.
The answer is not simple but...
Co-creating plans or experiences with the student that fuel inner sources of motivation have proven to be effective at developing self-regulation in students.
Often, for students who have experienced trauma, transition times between classes can be extremely overwhelming. The student may need extra time or visual cues to effectively transition, and don't be afraid to ask the student what they think would help them transition more easily, offering choice if they are stuck.
Students who have undergone traumatic experiences typically have more trouble with self-regulation. Co-regulating with students through scaffolding before we expect them to self-regulate can be a powerful tool in their learning.
For example: using more prompting and probing, asking students why they feel a certain way and getting to the root of problems together. The MEHRIT Centre has some great information on self-regulation.
"There is no such thing as a bad kid" - Stuart Shanker
Slow things down!
Mornings can be very overstimulating with the hustle and bustle of everyone moving around and getting settled. Making a morning routine that is predictable and slow (even just 10 minutes longer than usual!), can make a major difference in setting the tone for the rest of the day. Light music playing, a morning stretch, and individually greeting every student can allow the student to transition more easily into the day.
"Being able to feel safe with other people is probably the single most important aspect of mental health; safe connections are fundamental to meaningful and satisfying lives" - Van Der Kolk, 2014
Talk with students to come up with a plan of action for when the student has finished eating their lunch. Having activities set aside for some students can make them feel comfortable because they know what’s next in their otherwise unstructured schedule. If possible, making the room feel like a calmer space with dimmed lighting and relaxing music can be beneficial to reduce stress in many students.
Promoting a growth mindset in students comes with the dialogue that we provide students.
AIM for a healthy balance between internal and external validation that is DIRECTED at a specific effort from the child.
Be aware of anticipated changes in your voice, tone, and volume when speaking to the class. For traumatized students who hear fluctuations in these elements, it may heighten their stress levels due to unpredictability. For example, generally keeping a calm tone will also model calmness for the students. If there is an instance where you need to raise your voice suddenly, give a heads up about the changes you will make in your voice explain why you did so: "I was feeling frustrated that the class was not quieting down, so I raised my voice to get everyone's attention", or "my voice might sound harsher when I am upset because I kept repeating myself".
This vs That
Making simple changes to the way we approach our students can make a major difference in the lives of all students, but is essential for our little survivors and students with low SES [Socioeconomic status]. Below are 4 classic examples of activities and types of dialogue we may engage in that can actually, often unknowingly, harm our vulnerable or at-risk students. Hover over each box to see alternative options to these approaches!
The ever-so classic “How was your weekend? What did you do over the weekend? Enjoy your weekend/have a nice weekend and rest up!”
This has implications and can flood a trauma-inflicted student’s mind with traumatic and emotional triggers at home. Home may not be a safe space for some students and they actually may dread being home due to various factors.
On Friday, say:
“This week you have shown …… I look forward to seeing you back on Monday”.
On Monday, say:
“I am happy to see you back in class and I am so excited for the week we have ahead”.
Students that come from non-traditional families, have fragile relationships with their families, and/or are disconnected from their families may find family tree or personal timelines alienating and triggering.
Graphic of people that inspire me
Timeline of an event in history that resonates
Presentation about a historical figure
Family tree/personal timeline assignments
The holidays may not be so jolly for everyone. For students with trauma this time of year may be a constant reminder of the ‘ideal’ family relations, and can mean being around someone who triggers the person. For these students, holiday-themed crafts and assignments may create a feeling of exclusion.
Showing the various types of traditions that different families may engage in
Checking in with students even more frequently during these times
For many students, school is an escape from turbulent home life. When the back-to-school season rolls around, students sharing about their exciting vacations and fun adventures can lead to feelings of inferiority and social isolation.
What’s something you’re looking forward to this school year?
If you became leader of the world for one day, what’s the first thing you would do?
Write a story about what your most perfect day looks like!