5 Must-Know Facts About Trauma-Sensitive Teaching

 

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5 Must-Know Facts About

Trauma-Sensitive Teaching

 
 


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5 Must-Know Facts About Trauma-Sensitive Teaching

Trauma-sensitive teaching is a term that you’ve probably been hearing used a lot lately. You may be wondering what that term means. This issue of the Problem Student Problem-Solver is going to explain all that, plus provide solutions and strategies.

Unless you’re a beginning teacher, over the past decade you’ve probably noticed the dramatic increase in the amount of emotional, social and behavioral problems that students present. But, you’ve probably noticed that it’s not just that there’s been a big increase. You’ve probably noticed that the severity of these problems has also increased, and that the problems seems to be starting earlier and earlier.

trauma-sensitive teachingHello from Youth Change Workshops’ Director Ruth Herman Wells, M.S. Counselors, therapists and other mental health professionals like me, have long referred to the elementary years as the “latency” years. That term means that emotional, social and behavioral problems are usually less frequent and less severe during students’ earlier years. However, there are plenty of elementary teachers that now find that term to be woefully out of date as they report seeing far more severe and far more frequent issues in the youngest students. That’s why this article is going to include strategies for K through 12th grades.

Trauma-sensitive teaching AKA trauma-informed teaching simply means that the teacher is skilled in working sensitively and effectively with students who have faced or are facing traumatic events such as a death, severe illness, abuse, homelessness, crises or similar. Prior to the move towards making sure that more teachers know about trauma and how to teach students facing it, there were not widespread efforts to try to better ensure that teachers didn’t add to the problems faced by a traumatized child or teen.

So, for example, a teacher might have stated at the start of the year that students must get their homework in on time and there will never be any exceptions for any reason. However, imagine a student was up all night trying to somehow stop Dad from beating up Mom. By not allowing that student any accommodation of any type– despite the child’s very difficult situation– that can easily add to the damage that the youngster is enduring. Trauma-sensitive teaching means that the teacher carefully attempts to avoid adding more burdens and potential damage to the students’ already heavy burdens.

Trauma-sensitive teaching also means that the teacher realizes that many students may face profoundly serious problems that the teacher doesn’t know much or anything about– but is still expected to not add to the child woes. This may sound impossible, but we’ll show you in the facts listed below that it is in fact doable.

Trauma-sensitive teaching is all about finding a balance between what trauma a student may be facing, or has faced, and still offering this youngster a complete education. Sometimes it can feel like those two goals are incompatible and not easy to balance at all. However, this article is going to help you successfully find the balance between being sensitive to any trauma the child has endured, and your mission to educate.

5 Must-Know Facts AboutTrauma-Sensitive Teaching

trauma-informed teaching1.  Find the Balance Between
Trauma & Education

While it can seem to be difficult trying to find the balance between being sensitive to the trauma and providing academic instruction, it is actually not that hard once you have the facts included in this article.

Here is an important fact that will help: You never abandon your mission to educate, but you don’t accomplish it at all costs. Going back to the example of the child whose father was beating the child’s mother all night, if you don’t allow the child an accommodation such as completing the homework a day late, you are definitely adding a lot of misery to the shoulders of a child who may already be struggling to function.

While it certainly is laudable to hold high standards for students such as “no late assignments ever accepted,” the cost of that policy can be devastating to the child. Further, at a time when suicide rates, attempted suicide rates and self-harm are on the rise, no one can know what can push a student farther into deep despair, maybe even over the edge. By providing education in a way that takes the child’s trauma into consideration, you strike the balance between the child’s woes and your mission to educate.

Instead of unilateral policies with no room for adjustments, a better expectation is for students to work as hard as they can on days they are able, and to get some type of accommodation at other times. This guideline may not be appropriate for other populations but for traumatized students, it’s not just necessary, but critical. Remember: You may be the only sane, sober, humane adult in the child’s universe. If you become one more adult making their life even more terrifying and miserable, that can really crystallize a student’s despair and help drive them to hurt themselves, skip school or class, or just give up entirely.

 

2.  You Don’t Have to Know Exactly What the Trauma Is

It can feel like you’re in the dark. There may be a few subtle or not-so-subtle clues that a student is facing or has faced significant trauma, but a lot of the time, you may feel that you just don’t have enough information to guide you to determine who may be facing trauma and who isn’t. Here’s the good news: You don’t need to know exactly what is troubling a student, to know that you need to work very carefully and methodically to avoid adding to the load that the child is already shouldering. Here’s a way to remember this point: Must you see the skunk if you can smell it? Most people say that smelling the skunk is sufficient. Your students often give you tiny clues that they are coping with trauma. You don’t need to know the whole story to know that you want to be very careful that you’re your teaching is trauma-sensitive teaching– because if it’s not, you are very likely damaging or exacerbating the stress that the student is already coping with. Of course, if you do become aware of evidence of abuse or similar, you are a mandated reporter who much immediately notify the appropriate authorities.

If you follow the guideline listed in Step 1 above, you are going to be adjusting your expectations for possibly traumatized students by maximizing your expectations for academics when the child is more functional, and reducing those expectations when the child appears to be– or tells you- that they are struggling.

 

3.  To Better Understand Students’ Trauma, Remember Your Own Crises

Adults usually face crises and trauma at a lower rate than students, but you should be able to think back to a car accident, a death or fire that you lived through to remember what trauma feels like. Do you remember that after the car accident, you couldn’t focus for more than a few seconds, you just hunkered down in bed and didn’t even seem able to pull it together to get dressed?

While you face trauma perhaps only occasionally, your students can face it hourly, daily, weekly or monthly. They may live with beatings, sexual abuse, domestic violence, hunger, poverty, mental illness or verbal abuse. Like you, they feel a lot of the time that they can’t focus, they just want to stay in bad, and they feel too beleaguered to even get dressed. When you felt like this, no boss could have just mandated that you pull it together because you were already doing as good as you could. Your students feel exactly the same. Coping with the trauma takes everything they have, leaving scant resources to learn at a time when simply getting out of bed or getting dressed can seem absolutely overwhelming.

If you pressure a student to perform when facing trauma, you are causing more damage. When your rules don’t allow any exceptions even for a child whose dad hasn’t come home all week, you are causing more damage. That is why using only trauma-sensitive strategies in your classroom is so incredibly important. Either you use them with students who may live with trauma– or you cause more damage.

Are you worried that some students will take advantage of trauma-informed strategies? Read on to find out if that’s an issue.

 

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trauma-sensitive teaching guide4. Trauma-Sensitive Teaching Methods
Are Not Likely to be Exploited by Traumatized Students

Because teachers are given little training on juvenile mental health, many educators just guess at what to do when faced with students’ emotional problems. When it comes to students’ emotions, many educators may use one-size-fits-all methods with everyone in their class– even though they would never use one-size-fits-all academic strategies. For example, most educators will not try to get all their students to use one textbook because some students need a more advanced option, and others need a more basic option. By switching to trauma-sensitive strategies, teachers are no longer using one-size-fits-all strategies when it comes to students’ emotional functioning.

Trauma-sensitive strategies are not going to be needed with many youngsters who are fortunate enough to not be struggling with trauma. By using trauma-sensitive methods only with students who may be facing trauma, you are avoiding using the strategies with other populations who might very well take advantage of the accommodations offered. So, yes, non-traumatized students might try to exploit trauma-sensitive teaching strategies. By restricting the use of these methods to students who are in need of this type of approach, you limit or eliminate the risk of students manipulating the methods to take unfair advantage.

For students who do live with current or past trauma, they are unlikely to exploit trauma-sensitive approaches. Here’s why: First, remember back to when you last experienced trauma. Remember how you couldn’t even think straight? Remember how you had too little energy to do anything? Your students feel that way too. They would have trouble organizing their thoughts to exploit the methods. They will have little energy to exploit the methods. And, because you are perhaps the only sane, sober adult in their life, they are not going to want to risk jeopardizing their lifeline.

 

5.  Avoid The Most Common Trauma-Sensitive Teaching Errors

Some staff members look at a traumatized student and say that while they feel bad for the youngster’s difficult situation, that they have to be fair and rigorous in their academic instruction and expectations. A teacher adhering to this philosophy may never allow a traumatized student to submit an assignment late or to take a make-up exam, for example. While it’s great that this teacher is so tightly focused on helping students achieve, this style of instruction unfortunately means that struggling students are being compelled to function at times when they are so deeply in crisis, that almost any functioning is difficult perhaps impossible– never mind learning and mastering new and challenging academics. If you remember back to that car accident you were in, or when you were almost badly hurt in a tornado, there were periods of time when even routine tasks like hygiene and eating were difficult or impossible for you to do. Some of your students face tornado-sized trauma at home or in the community. They can’t function just like you couldn’t function.

Other staff members on your team look at a traumatized student and say that they are so concerned about the youngster that they just aren’t going to expect anything from them. While it’s great that this teacher is being so sensitive to the trauma that a student may be dealing with, but based on this outlook, the teacher may not be offering the child enough academics to prepare the child for life and adulthood. While this viewpoint is the opposite of the view described in the paragraph above, it too has both positive and negative implications for the student coping with trauma. With this viewpoint, the child will be spared avoidable stress and pressure, but the world is not going to care about what this student lived through. The world will still expect this child to be able to spell, make change and fill in job applications– all skills the child may lack if their teacher doesn’t expect anything from them due to the trauma.

Holding one of these two viewpoints is a common way that teachers fail to achieve trauma-sensitive teaching. Now that you are aware of these common pitfalls, you will be able to avoid them. By balancing these two viewpoints, you find the sweet spot that is trauma-sensitive teaching.

 

 

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Must-Know Strategies for the 5 Most Common Student Mental Health Problems

 

teacher classroom management blog

 

Must-Know Strategies

for the

5 Most Common

Student Mental Health Problems

 
 

 

student mental healthThere is no question that you are seeing many more student mental health problems than ever before. Many educators typically lack extensive or even basic training on student mental health problems and end up lacking many or all of the honed, more effective strategies and tools that juvenile mental health professionals have developed. This how-to article for educators and other non-mental health professionals is designed to remedy that oversight as much as possible given the limited space we have for a complex topic. This Top 5 list of student mental health problems is based on the feedback of the teachers, principals, school counselors and special educators that have attended our in-person Breakthrough Strategies to Teach and Counsel Troubled Youth Workshops recently. (You can attend too as our next live conference is coming up soon in Seattle on April 18-19, 2019 — and, even better, our conference scholarships are still open! Just call 800.545.5736 to grab one now.)

Hello from Youth Change Director Ruth Herman Wells, M.S. I have spent my career teaching about key student mental health problems and diagnoses to educators and other non-mental health professionals. I am hoping that you will be able to immediately use the information included in this important article for teachers, principals, special educators and other non-mental health professionals who work with children and teens. Even though non-mental health professionals can’t diagnose, the how-to article below is intended to give you the language to better understand, manage and communicate about your students who are struggling with their emotions and/or thoughts.

 

Must-Know Strategies

for the

5 Most Common

Student Mental Health Problems

 

student with conduct disorder1. CONDUCT DISORDER

If you don’t know this disorder backwards and forwards and inside and out, then you are a vulnerable target for your most seriously acting-out students. In our workshops, we spend hours and hours on this disorder because the student who has this disorder is normally by far your most impossible-to-manage student– and this disorder is very common. Affecting an estimated 11-14% of your students, this disorder means that the child or teen is wired differently than other students. Lacking remorse, empathy and relationship capacity, this child’s signature is his extreme acting-out. That was not a misplaced pronoun. “He” is very often a he, not a she. Girls don’t very commonly have this disorder but they can have it, and when they do, their behavior is often beyond extreme.

Here are some passable examples of this disorder from popular culture: J.R. Ewing from the TV show Dallas, Sid the boy in the first Toy Story movie, and Eddie Haskell from Leave It to Beaver. Everyday, ordinary interventions always fail with this population and generally make the situation worse. That means that your go-to interventions that work well or okay with other students, routinely let you down with this population. That’s why working successfully with children who have or may have conduct disorder requires that you use specialized interventions that are different from what you normally use. Since this youngster lacks a heart and relationship capacity, strategies that require empathy or compassion will always fail. There is no way I can capture this problem for you in this tiny space but there are countless free articles on our site to guide you, plus online courses and books. Go to our free, introductory Conduct Disorder mental health article to learn more about this common, serious disorder and to discover the kinds of strategies that must be used– and those that must never be used– with this very difficult-to-control student.

 

student mental health problem

2. CLINICAL DEPRESSION

Sure, lots and lots of adolescents are depressed but that’s not clinical depression. Clinical depression is more serious, more prolonged and more difficult than ordinary adolescent angst. For all mental health diagnoses, a mental health or health professional is needed to diagnose, but whether or not you can diagnose, you can certainly adjust how you work with children and teens who appear to be clinically depressed. The top go-to step for seriously depressed children and teens is working with  a mental health clinician. Next, after that, there are three major strategies that have been shown to be effective. First, depressed students often can benefit from having the chance to vent their concerns. Almost any adult can do a least some listening. Second, exercise, mindfulness training and meditation offer depressed students really useful tools. Along the same line, teaching students how to better manage their upsetting thoughts, can have a lot of value. The third strategy to consider is to arrange with the family for an anti-depressant but there is a risk of self-harm for this option, and this option can be difficult to set up. Studies suggest all three methods together work better than any of the strategies separately.

Depression needs to be taken seriously and it can definitely spur students to behaviors that are very concerning. As a society we are more attuned to paying attention to acting out, not giving as much notice to the more subtle, less obvious, less overt, more quiet phenomena of depression. Don’t let that cultural norm prevent you from devoting time to students whose behavior may be acceptable but their emotional functioning may still be of great concern. Depressed students are just as worthy and needing of your attention as students who command your attention with acting-out behavior. Read more about how to help students who face clinical depression in our free how-to articles.

 

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bipolar disorder

3. BIPOLAR DISORDER

I am including this student mental health problem here not because it is a very common disorder; it’s actually not as common as many other childhood and teen disorders. I am including it because so many of the teachers and principals that I see in my workshops and at conferences, are confused about what this disorder is all about. This disorder used to be called Manic-Depression and I think that old title was really helpful to remind non-mental health workers what this problems is all about. This disorder means that the child or teen gets really depressed then suddenly starts being out-of-control with little in between. They go from 0 miles an hour to 150 miles an hour in a flash. It is a very unpleasant, distressing disorder that can be extremely hard to manage unless the family gets a diagnosis and follows through very carefully on medication. Medication is the first, second and third best strategy. That is my silly way of saying that medication is just incredibly important.

I’m not sure if there is anything that even comes close to being as helpful as meds, but skill training can be very useful. The skill training must focus on teaching the child to take their meds. Skill training also needs to prepare the child and family to cope effectively with any issues that they may develop about the medication or its side effects as regularly taking medicine as directed is crucial to getting and keeping this youngster stabilized. When the child is unmedicated or missing doses, their manic behavior can quickly get very extreme and inappropriate, even illegal. If you are not a mental health professional and you think you are working with a child who could have this serious disorder, you need to alert your supervisor at once and hopefully you will be able to arrange a thorough evaluation. This disorder typically is found to start when the person is a young adult or older adult but it can occur earlier.

 

 

school mental health4. OPPOSITIONAL DEFIANT DISORDER

This disorder looks at first to be just like conduct disorder but that is not a very accurate perception. The difference between conduct disorder (C.D.) and oppositional defiant disorder (O.D.D.) may not be readily obvious but it is incredibly important. Treatment for O.D.D. varies dramatically from that offered for conduct disorder. While students with O.D.D. and C.D. typically both misbehave and can be aggressive and non-compliant, the behavior of the student with C.D. is normally far more extreme, frequent and damaging to people, animals and property. While that difference is important, the really important difference is that the child with C.D. lacks a conscience and that is a huge problem. Lacking a conscience, relationship capacity and empathy for others, the student with C.D. can track towards crime and other behaviors that society doesn’t permit.

The student with O.D.D. is believed to have a conscience, but that conscience isn’t doing very much to help. A good conscience can provide very good brakes for bad behavior. Absent that conscience, a child will do what they want, when they want, to who they want. That is precisely what makes children with C.D. so potentially dangerous and so very hard to manage in any environment. Being diagnosed with O.D.D. is far more hopeful than being diagnosed with C.D. as the hope is that if that conscience can be better activated, the student can behave better.

While both sets of students need extensive training to manage their fist, mouth and actions, the student with O.D.D. has a far more optimistic prognosis. The student diagnosed with C.D. will never learn to care about others and is pretty much always going to be reined in using consequences and possibly rewards. The student with O.D.D. can really do very well once their conscience is more dominant and they have mastered how to be a civilized, law-abiding, compliant human. If you are not a mental health professional, be sure to try to arrange a thorough mental health evaluation so you know whether you’re working with an apple or an onion. While these two disorders can look somewhat the same, you have to be very careful to proceed differently depending on which disorder is actually occurring in a student.

 

trauma informed5. STUDENTS WITH TRAUMA

Unlike the previous items, this issue is not a mental health diagnostic category. However, “trauma-informed” practice has been a prominent concept lately so that combined with the huge frequency of trauma, led me to include this issue here. If you work with kids, you are working with some youngsters who have faced, or are facing traumatic events such as abuse, violence, abandonment or crises. Students facing trauma who are evaluated by a mental health clinician, can receive varying mental health diagnoses (like depression and PTSD, for example), but it is that common thread of trauma that I wanted to address.

Students who are traumatized often have little energy for school or whatever service your site offers. These youngsters need help from a mental health professional but they also need to not face more unnecessary stress in your environment– even when they don’t do much school work, are selectively mute and uninvolved in activities. The key here, regardless of the diagnosis, is to strike a balance between being sensitive to what this child may be living through and your mission. When the child is more functional, increase expectations a bit but if the increase sends the child into a tailspin, then return to the last level where the youngster was successful. When the child is less functional, decrease expectations a bit and work cooperatively to maximize the child’s involvement but without adding to the child’s already heavy load.

Many of your work refusing students are children who are coping with traumatic events. After enduring serious incidents of trauma, children may be diagnosed with PTSD, Post-Traumatic Syndrome Disorder, which is a very concerning diagnosis. These youngsters, in particular, need your site to be a haven, not more misery, so working with these children very carefully and delicately is strongly recommended. Children who have lived through much horror at a young age and lack resilience, are very brittle and easily broken. The bottom line is that you  may be the only sane, sober adult in the child’s universe. If instead of being helpful, you are yet another harmful adult, you can help track the child in the wrong direction. Conversely, if you offer help, empathy, guidance and a moderate, unstressful intervention plan, you can often engineer some progress, albeit slow.

 

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    Schedule the Breakthrough Strategies to Teach and Counsel Troubled Workshop to come to your site. This is the one professional development inservice that produces results, results, results. Call 1.800.545.5736 now. This surprisingly affordable inservice also makes a terrific fund raiser. College credit and 10 professional development clock hours are available. Your staff will finally have the more effective, real-world tools they need to work with today’s challenging, difficult youth.

     

    Contact us now, and begin solving your worst “kid problems” today. Call 1.800.545.5736, or email.

     

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    Library of Congress ISSN: 1526-9981 | Youth Change, Your Problem-Kid Problem-Solver
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Social-Emotional Learning Strategies to Improve Student Behavior

 

teacher classroom management blog

 

Better Solve Behavior Problems with

Strategies for Students’
Social and Emotional Learning

 
 

 

teacher classroom management helpIf you’re a teacher and you’re not using social-emotional learning strategies all day long in your classroom, you may be able to really ramp up your academic results if you begin to incorporate that type of methods when working with students who present behavior problems.

Sometimes some students’ behavior can seem incomprehensible. Some students can seem to almost randomly act out with a cycle or pattern of the students being acceptably behaved for a long time, then poorly behaved for no obvious reason. Misbehavior that appears to be random, usually has causes that a teacher may not be able to readily see or even know about. Often, the student has problems at home, in the community, with their family, their mental health, substance abuse, or their functioning that are not readily discernible– even to the adult who may spend the most time with them during the week. But, if you could see into your students’ homes and lives outside of school, you would have all the answers you need to understand what is going on to prompt the problem behavior.

In this issue, we’ll take you behind the scenes as best we can, then load you up with both preventative and intervention strategies. This article is in keeping with the recent national attention being given to social and emotional learning, as well as the use of trauma-informed interventions in schools and classrooms. Here, we’re going to focus on students’ social and emotional problems, as well as the trauma that some youngsters have to cope with. Since most educators get very little mental health training to cope with the serious social and emotional problems today’s students present, this article will hopefully be exactly the help you better identify, understand and manage students’ social and emotional problems.

Hello from Youth Change Workshops’ Director Ruth Herman Wells, M.S. I’m a mental health professional and I am going to be giving you some key mental health strategies to help you better manage your students’ social and emotional problems. Student social and emotional problems seem to be on the rise right now, so this article is well-timed to help you best help your students.

 

social emotional learning methodsStrategies for
Students’ Social and Emotional Problems

Here are some classic behavioral concerns that teachers often encounter with students– and the underlying truth about the powerful social and emotional causes that can be the cause of the evident behavior problem. After reviewing these scenarios, my hope is that you will stay mindful that today’s teachers have to always be stopping to look for the social and emotional causes of students’ behavior problems. It may be futile or quite difficult to try to resolve many common, everyday student behavioral problems without addressing the social and emotional issues that cause and sustain the behavioral concerns. Conventional training for teachers does not necessarily include thoroughly preparing educators to spot and manage students’ social and emotional issues, further complicating the situation.

 

“They’re Not Doing What They’re Supposed to Do”

It is really easy for an overworked teacher to focus on the obvious, things like missing school supplies, tardiness or disinterest. It is also really easy for teachers to come to view some students as just “not doing what they’re supposed to do.” The truth is that sometimes this type of ordinary, everyday problems– like having no pencil– are sometimes the manifestation of an overarching, larger issue that is having serious deleterious impact on a student’s functioning in the classroom and school. What teacher hasn’t chided a student for having no pencil? We’ve all done that countless times. Yet when a student’s social and emotional circumstances are not given sufficient heed, that ordinary intervention of chiding a child for having no pencil can create new problems in the student.

In the example below, the student sounds like he is becoming more angry, discouraged, frustrated and sad. The poem reproduced below, will take you behind the scenes and become a reminder for you that sometimes the real problem isn’t the missing pencil. Sometimes the real problem is what happened at home before the student even left for school. As you read this short poem, notice how focusing on the pencil will never help this student.

Cause I Ain’t Got a Pencil

by Joshua T. Dickerson

I woke myself up

Because we ain’t got an alarm clock

Dug in the dirty clothes basket,

Cause ain’t nobody washed my uniform

Brushed my hair and teeth in the dark,

Cause the lights ain’t on

Even got my baby sister ready,

Cause my mama wasn’t home.

Got us both to school on time,

To eat us a good breakfast.

Then when I got to class the teacher fussed

Cause I ain’t got no pencil

 

“They’re Too Distracted”

It’s true that the typical classroom includes many distracted students. But for many of these youngsters, the biggest problem isn’t their difficulty focusing. For many of these students, the bigger problem is likely to be something that the teacher can’t readily see or be aware of. In one of the schools near our office, there was a 10 year-old who kept complaining of a stomach ache nearly every day just around noon, and he would ask to go home. Understandably, the teacher was concerned about the daily distraction from academics and school. The teacher tried all the conventional strategies to address the somatic complaint:  Sometimes she would send him to the school nurse, sometimes she told him to just put his head down, other times she asked if he had eaten. Eventually, she sent him to the school guidance counselor who tried more of the same type of interventions, all focusing on the distraction of the tummy ache. After conventional interventions that focused on the distraction had all repeatedly failed, the counselor began to ask the boy if something was wrong, if something was troubling him. After a few times of being asked, eventually the boy did reply: “Yes, there is something wrong. There is something terribly wrong. My family is being evicted and I’m scared that if I don’t get home right away, that by the time I get there, the sheriff will come and my family will leave town without me and I’ll end up being an orphan.”

The interventions that focused on the apparent problem could never had engendered any improvement. By switching to an intervention that focused on possible social and emotional issues, the problem could be readily solved. The counselor had the parents explain to their offspring that they would never leave town without him, and the stomach aches stopped permanently. When you look past the apparent presenting problem to consider any possible social and emotional factors, often you can solve the original problem faster and far more effectively. This story is the perfect reminder to stop focusing on just the pencil or tummy ache, and start focusing on the unknown social and emotional concerns that may be the much bigger force behind a students in-school and classroom behavior.


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social emotional learning“They’re Lazy”

It’s easy to begin to see some underperforming students as lazy. Certainly, based on their work completion and quality, these students can appear to simply be uninterested and unwilling to put in the requisite effort needed to succeed in the classroom and school. A teacher came up to me at one of the workshops I was teaching and looking a bit embarrassed, she told me about one of her students, a girl who had begun to do very little work in school. The teacher had been really “on her case”– to use the teacher’s words– to do more of her school work and homework. Then the teacher headed into the teachers’ lounge and while there, she overheard the school guidance counselor talking. The guidance counselor was letting the school faculty know that the reason the girl had been doing so little in school was that the girl’s father hadn’t come home in a month and his absence was causing the family to be swamped with fear and grief. After hearing that, the teacher said “If I’d only known what the student was going through, of course I wouldn’t have added to her misery.” Make this teacher’s confession your guide to always taking the time to check in with struggling students to see if there are any significant social or emotional problems that could be interfering with their performance in your classroom.

“They’re Slow Learners”

It’s hard to imagine the scary, sad or lonely home life that some students face. For some students, their neighborhoods and communities are the setting for a brutal childhood that most of us can’t even begin to conceptualize. Especially if you were blessed to grow up in a home and community that were safe and nurturing, it can be tough to picture and remain sensitive to the grueling circumstances that some of today’s children and teens face.

The reality of our contemporary time is that the teacher may be the only sane, safe, sober adult in some students’ universe. That grossly magnifies the impact of the teacher’s behavior on these emotionally fragile students. When a teacher is not addressing potential social and emotional factors when selecting interventions, that delicate bond between the student and teacher can be quickly damaged. Conversely, when a teacher does factor social and emotional issues into the choice of intervention strategies, the bond between student and teacher can become really strong. That strong bond can create an environment where even traumatized, emotionally disturbed and troubled students attempt to work as hard as they can on days they are able– and that is the perfect goal for working with deeply impaired students.

You must strike a balance between the horrors that a child is living with, and your mission to provide education. The world still requires everyone to have adequate skills and education in order to function, with no exceptions given for people who had rough childhoods. So, by balancing the child’s pain with their need for a complete education, you are being sensitive to difficult circumstances that the child is facing, but you never abandon your mission to educate them. If you prioritize education over their suffering, you tend to lose ground with the child. If you prioritize their suffering over education, you tend to produce a child with limited education and skills. By attending to both priorities, you are still giving this troubled child an education, but without adding to the child’s already heavy load. The excerpt below will cement in this point so you can stay mindful of it in your classroom. The passage is taken from John Seryak’s book, “Dear Teacher.”

Gestures that some teachers make and may consider routine, might be the rays of hope a traumatized child sees shining through the bleakness.  I can’t multiply or divide without a calculator, but more  important, I know how to add and subtract because of a 1st grade teacher who gave me little plastic cars to count as I stood with my classmates who knew the answers off the tops of their heads.  A teacher offered me tools that giving up was not the solution.  Making adjustments and discovering the choices available was the lesson I was guided towards understanding.  Teachers may be lifelines for children in crisis.  All that I had left was school, my saving grace:  I want you to know about me, the traumatized child, who, somehow, survived…I’m not certain that the nature of trauma a child experiences is hidden.  I think, more often, it’s overlooked.

 

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Help SED Students: Troubled Minds Worsen During Troubled Times Like Hurricane Harvey

 

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Troubled Minds Worsen
During Troubled Times:
How to Help Emotionally Disturbed Students

 
 

 

studentIf you find the current time period to be a turbulent time, consider the impact of the commotion on students with troubled minds. The impact can be considerable. Given the monster storm, Harvey, that is currently devastating a significant section of the United States, this article is meant to be timely help for anyone who works in the affected region. The article should still be relevant for anyone who works with severely emotionally disturbed (SED) students, or youngsters who struggle with anxiety, trauma, depression and fear.

Hello from Youth Change Workshops Director, Ruth Herman Wells, M.S. In this article, I’m going to cherry pick some of the very best interventions for severely emotionally disturbed  students and other populations who can be dramatically affected by turbulent times. If you want more than the handful of strategies included here, come to our Portland, Oregon Breakthrough Strategies to Teach and Counsel Troubled Youth Workshop on October 12-13, 2017. In that professional development workshop, you will learn 200 more strategies to help troubled students, as well as those who act out, are bullies, disrespectful, truant and failing academically. Financial aid scholarships for the live workshop are available by making a quick phone call to us at 800.545.5736.

A quick shout out to Texas and Louisiana teachers, counselors and others affected by Hurricane Harvey:
We will welcome you free to our October, 2017 Portland Breakthrough Strategies Workshop, without any charge, if you are a teacher, counselor or other  youth professional from Texas or Louisiana with a work  address in the region gravely affected by the hurricane.
Email us your name and contact information to sign up for free. It is our attempt to give back to a region that has supported our workshops for decades.

Troubled and SED students often have substantial difficulty succeeding in school even during the best of times. During more difficult times, their performance and attendance can plummet. Here are some of our best methods to help emotionally disturbed, traumatized, depressed and fragile students who are struggling more as the world around them gets more turbulent.

 

help traumatized studentsStrategies to Help SED Students and Others

Affected By Turbulent Times

 

Become a Landmark

Being a troubled or severely emotionally disturbed (SED) student is kind of like riding a merry-go-round. For the child or teen, the world is kind of spinning around. To help, become a landmark so that the child doesn’t feel so adrift and disoriented. You can become the place to turn when the child’s anxiety, fear, angst or life events become overwhelming. As you become a reliable point of calm in the storm, the student may eventually learn to extrapolate that calm to other parts of their life. Be sure to specifically make these points with the student so they understand that yes, their world can seem to spin out of control, but you have to look for a place to shelter from the storm, and that place can be you and your classroom or office.

Look for the Helpers

Mr. Rogers, the TV children’s program host from years ago, always used to say in his most soothing voice: During times of chaos, tragedy and catastrophe: Look for the Helpers. It was a genius idea. By helping upset, troubled and disturbed students focus on the one part of the situation that is positive, it can reduce their fear, anxiety and trepidation. For emotionally disturbed students and other youngsters who struggle, the more their emotions are within a tolerable range, the more they can focus on school work. The reality is that all students will need the life skills taught in school, and that includes those who are living with violence, a weather-related catastrophe, family problems, mental illness and other life challenges. Assisting your SED students and others to self-soothe will reduce the amount of suffering they experience while potentially freeing up additional energy for school.

 

Find Their “Salt”

For troubled students, it can be hard to care about or work in school. The old saying that “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink” is the perfect illustration. However, what would get that horse to drink? Salt. See if you can find what is the student’s “salt.” It could be getting them excited about a career goal that requires education. It could be having them read about Maya Angelou and others who rose above tragedy and trauma to greatness. It could be helping them escape the world through music, poetry, art or literature. It can be using their exposure to fire fighters and police, to learn about becoming a public safety worker when an adult. If you can believe that all students have things they care about, your are much more likely to help students to identify those valued things, and then you can use those things to convince the child that education is a way out of the pain– and the best and fastest way forward to a better future.

 

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troubled studentTroubled Minds? Meet Mindfulness

By now, the Mindfulness “revolution” has probably reached your part of the world. Mindfulness is the ideal intervention strategy to offer students with SED, anxiety problems, depression and similar. One of the key elements of mindfulness is to help the student stay focused on the present. In this current moment, the child is safe, has been fed, and is warm and dry. Help the students to focus on what is happening right now and to avoid worrying about the past and future. That can sound like a tough sell but you can also use meditation techniques to make that goal more achievable. Meditation can consist of having the child breathe slowly, eyes closed (if willing), while focusing on nothing but the breath for just a few minutes. Countless studies document that meditation can reduce specific problem feelings like anxiety, fear and worry.

Help Others

Studies often document that when children and teens in pain turn their attention to helping others, they feel better themselves. So, this is the perfect time to have your students create and implement a project to benefit those affected by Hurricane Harvey. This effort can become the perfect way to teach your fragile and troubled students that “helping others helps you too.”

Bloom Where You’re Planted

For students whose difficulty appears to be long term, teach them to “bloom where they’re planted.” For example, if a child is likely going to remain in difficult conditions in the Hurricane Harvey flood zone for a while, teach the student that they can go through the experience the “hard way” or the “easier way.” They can be miserable the entire time or they can look for anything positive. For example, the student may miss their home that is now unlivable, but they may really like living with their cousins and having someone to play with all the time. Teach students to keep looking for that positive among the negatives and once they find it, to focus on it. This intervention strategy can help some students avoid sinking into prolonged, deep depressions. Many recent neuroplasticity studies have established that it is possible through effective thought management to reduce the amount of depression a child experiences while building up the brain pathways that focus on the positive. Physical activity combined with talking, thought management and mindfulness is a potent combination that can definitely help over time. Without  these evidence-based techniques, students are statistically quite likely to continue to struggle emotionally and to worsen over time.

 

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    Schedule the Breakthrough Strategies to Teach and Counsel Troubled Workshop to come to your site. This is the one professional development inservice that produces results, results, results. Call 1.800.545.5736 now. This surprisingly affordable inservice also makes a terrific fund raiser. College credit and 10 professional development clock hours are available. Your staff will finally have the more effective, real-world tools they need to work with today’s challenging, difficult youth.

     

    Contact us now, and begin solving your worst “kid problems” today. Call 1.800.545.5736, or email.

     

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The Top 4 Student Mental Health Issues– Must-Have Tips

 

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The Top 4 Student Mental Health Issues

Must-Have Tips on What to Do– and What Not Do

 

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The Top 4 Student Mental Health Issues

Must-Have Tips on What to Do– and What Not Do


speaker student mental healthIt’s really amazing how more and more students seem to have serious mental health issues compared to as little as 15 or 20 years ago. With no disrespect intended, I am often surprised when I speak at school, juvenile justice, foster parent, counseling, social work and mental health conferences at how many common juvenile mental health diagnoses are either misunderstood or unfamiliar to the participants.

Hello from Youth Change Professional Development Workshops director, Ruth Herman Wells. That’s me in the image on the right, speaking at a large education conference in Florida in early 2017.  Often, when I try to explain a commonly misunderstood diagnosis, I almost get booed out of the building. Okay, that was an exaggeration but once at a Texas conference of several thousand, it did take a while until I got the group to settle down and listen. Then the room got really quiet as they realized that many of them had misunderstood some key diagnostic labels. I’m no diagnostic expert but I do know my basics really well and when you get done reading this, you will hopefully have a better grasp of some of the basics too if you don’t already.

WHY DIAGNOSTIC CATEGORIES ARE IMPORTANT

student with SEDIf you lack the ability to understand, refine and label what you are seeing, you are going to be far less effective. That’s why Eskimos apparently have many names for different types of snow. Understanding the snow differences might be important for travel, sport, fishing, hunting, and so on. Similarly, if you just see acting-out students, and sad kids, and angry kids but can’t refine beyond those rather global discriminations, that makes it much harder for you to intervene correctly, intervene using the correct strategies, communicate to others, explain to parents, or help locate the right mental health counselor, family therapist, psychologist, social worker or doctor, for example. But, the bottom line is that you simply won’t be as effective helping your emotionally disturbed and troubled students. There is a laundry list of woes that result when you don’t know your basic diagnostic categories for juveniles. One big risk: You can do great harm. The other big risk: You are much more likely to miss key opportunities to prevent or best manage serious or worsening issues like self-harm, self-endangering, acting out and law violations from occurring.

THE INFORMATION HERE IS JUST APPETIZERS

I can’t cram a semester’s worth of Juvenile Mental Health Diagnostic Categories 101 into this short article so I am going to give you just the starting point. Your homework is to go deeper than the headlines I am going to be able to give here. I will be giving you a quick description of the problems typically associated each diagnosis, and a quick description of the key issues you must be aware of. It will be your job to get the full picture yourself from a reputable source and not attempt to get by on the condensed information in this introductory article. We have hundreds of easy-to-read articles on tailoring your strategies to fit students’ mental health issues. Find them in our How-To Articles Archive.  If you haven’t already familiarized yourself with the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM), that is the bible of mental health diagnosing, I urge you to take time to do that for at least the 4 diagnostic categories I am about to give you. They are, in my opinion, the top diagnoses for juveniles in our contemporary time. As a mental health professional, I know how important it is that absolutely every teacher, school counselor, juvenile court worker, foster parent, social worker and principal be familiar with these mental health designations.

THE TOP 4 JUVENILE MENTAL HEALTH DIAGNOSIS

Here are some of the most common, most unfamiliar and misunderstood juvenile mental health issues that appear to be on the rise, occurring in larger numbers than perhaps ever before. As a non-mental health professional, you can’t diagnose, but you can carry the concern in your mind and make adjustments accordingly. You already do that with other common juvenile mental health diagnoses like ADD, ADHD and depression. However, while those diagnoses are pretty widely understood, and useful, targeted strategies are well documented, the common disorders below are not as well known and are quite frequently misunderstood.

emotional problems1. Conduct Disorder

This is your most misbehaved student. The student is usually male and you can see some or all of the following behaviors, however this list is not complete: manipulation, lying, stealing, damage to people, damage to property,  no relationship capacity, no genuine remorse, no compassion, abusing animals, delinquency, rule violations, defiance, negative leadership, chameleon-like, persuasive, bullies. The hallmark of this disorder is that the child is believed to have no conscience. Without those critical brakes on the youngster’s behavior, this student can appear completely out of control. And he is.

This disorder is believed to occur with roughly 11-14% of the mainstream population. When the child becomes an adult, the disorder’s name is normally shifted to be the adult version of this juvenile diagnosis, switching to a designation such as Anti-Social Disorder. Some passable, but not ideal examples from popular culture: J.R. Ewing from the TV show, Dallas; McCauley Culkin in The Good Son movie; Sid, the boy dismembering toys in the Toy Story movie.

Here is the most important thing to know: Routine, everyday, common intervention strategies –like making amends, for example– fail to rein in this very unmanageable student. That is why in my inservice workshops, teachers and others often underscore that “nothing works” to manage this student. If you believe you are working with a child with this disorder, you must switch to a different style of intervention and avoid or extremely limit relationship-based approaches as not only do these methods fail badly, they usually make the situation worse. In addition, the use of counter-indicated intervention strategies often lead the student to believe that the adult doesn’t have a clue so they can just do whatever they want. This assessment is certain to create and/or worsen safety and behavior management issues.

Learn more about this common juvenile mental health diagnosis.

 

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2. Oppositional Defiant Disorder

Non-mental health professionals often confuse Conduct Disorder with Oppositional Defiant Disorder, abbreviated as ODD. To the lay person, ODD can seem to be very similar to Conduct Disorder.  This youngster does engage in problem acting-out behavior but the frequency, severity and duration of the misconduct is usually less than that seen from a student with Conduct Disorder. The overarching, key difference, however, is that the student with ODD does have a conscience but that conscience doesn’t appear to be having much positive impact. The key with this youngster is to “pull up” that conscience and get it to do its job better. That goal varies dramatically from the goal for working with students with Conduct Disorder. However, both students need to learn step-by-step to use more socially acceptable behavior, temper any rebelliousness and impulsiveness, and avoid leading or following other students into misconduct. Both types of students need firm rules and over-the-top consequences.

It is important to be aware that mental health counselors, social workers and other clinicians are hesitant to apply the diagnosis of Conduct Disorder as it has such grave implications for the child’s future. So often the diagnostician waits until the students’ behavior is so extreme that they feel comfortable and confident that they must apply that diagnosis. In the meantime, they may still be required to offer a diagnosis. Since there is no category of “I’m worried this kid may have Conduct Disorder,” diagnosticians often “park” the child in a catch-all category. The most popular catch-all category: ODD. So, quite often students initially labeled with ODD are really kids with Conduct Disorder who just haven’t acted out enough to “earn” the diagnosis. Sadly, this tendency to “park” youngsters confuses teachers and others who believe the “temporary” diagnosis. So what do you do under these circumstances? Use the methods for Conduct Disorders but don’t completely cut off relationship-based methods. However, use just a little bit of relationship-based methods and watch what happens. If the outcome is often grim, consider reducing the use of that class of intervention strategy dramatically as using relationship-based behavior management strategies with students who are actually Conduct Disordered, tends to fail spectacularly.

3. Thought Disorder

Although this is not a terribly common disorder, it is frequently misunderstood. Affecting about 1% of mainstream students, this disorder means that the student sees things no one else can see, hears voices no one else can hear, or has upsetting thoughts that are profoundly disturbing. An extreme, but good example is John Hinckley, who attempted to kill Ronald Reagan to impress Jodie Foster. Children and teens with thought disorder have trouble discerning what is real and what is only in their brain. The most important intervention is to have a mental health professional assess the child and possibly prescribe medicine that can control the disorder. This child has a conscience but her brain is not working right. This mental health problem is primarily a physiological issue although clearly the child’s behavior and functioning is gravely affected.

4. Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar Disorder used to be called Manic-Depression. That term was really a big help to aid non-mental health staff to remember what this disorder is all about. This disorder has two parts. The child swings rapidly at random intervals from being very depressed to being very excited and overwrought. This child also has a conscience, but they get so “up” when they swing quickly from being depressed to over-excited, that they can impulsively engage in all manner of problem behaviors. As with the child with thought disorder, medicine is the key. This is also a physiologically-based disorder even though it affects every aspect of the students’ life.

 

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    Schedule the Breakthrough Strategies to Teach and Counsel Troubled Workshop to come to your site. This is the one professional development inservice that produces results, results, results. Call 1.800.545.5736 now. This surprisingly affordable inservice also makes a terrific fund raiser. College credit and 10 professional development clock hours are available. Your staff will finally have the more effective, real-world tools they need to work with today’s challenging, difficult youth.

     

    Contact us now, and begin solving your worst “kid problems” today. Call 1.800.545.5736, or email.

     

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How Teachers Can Help Depressed and S.E.D. Students

 

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How to Help
Depressed and S.E.D. Students:

 Must-Know Tips and Tools

 


 
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Before we give you some fantastic tips on how to teach and counsel depressed children and teens, would you give us a bit of a helping hand? We have a fairly big group coming to our Seattle Breakthrough Strategies to Teach and Counsel Troubled Youth Workshop on May 5-6, 2016, but for the first time in two decades of hosting this workshop, no one has signed up for our Work Study Helper Scholarships. We are looking for two people who would like to attend the workshop totally, 100% FREE and in exchange, help with workshop logistics. It's easy work in exchange for waiving our usual $169 tuition. Would you please let your co-workers know about this awesome professional development conference at an awesome price? Helpers get the same workshop as everyone else and can also earn 10 free clock hours and optional college grad credit too. Call 1.800.545.5736 for details and to sign up. Workshop details are here.
 


 

How to Help
Depressed and S.E.D. Students:
 Must-Know Tips and Tools

 

teacherIt can be tough for teachers to know exactly what is the best way to help children who are severely emotionally disturbed (S.E.D.) Working with sad and depressed students can often be particularly difficult and delicate. Even counselors who specialize in assisting children and teens with depression and sadness, can find these youngsters very hard to help. So, if you are not a counselor, be sure to immediately seek help from a mental health professional or your supervisor if you have any safety concerns at all. This sampler of intervention strategies is not a substitute for that. The strategies offered here for S.E.D. and depressed students give you just a tiny look at of our more comprehensive offerings provided in our workshops, online courses and books— and this peek at our resources is definitely no substitute for consulting a clinician and our full professional development resources for additional guidance.

If you do want more than just a tiny taste of our innovative methods for children and teens with S.E.D. and/or severe depression, be sure to consider coming to our upcoming Seattle, May 5-6, 2016 Breakthrough Strategies to Teach and Counsel Troubled Youth Workshop, where we will cover S.E.D. students in great depth. As you probably have noticed, we have two no-charge Workshop Helper slots open, meaning you can attend completely free and earn clock hours and college credit too. Call 1.800.545.5736 to sign up or get more details on this fantastic opportunity, and be sure to pass on the information to any colleagues who might want to participate for free in this information-packed classroom behavior management workshop.
 

SED studentStrategies for Depressed and S.E.D. Students
 

Yesterday Once More
When children and youth spend a lot of the present being very upset about problems from the past, ask them to "bloom where you're planted."

Power Walk
Vigorous exercise can have a powerful effect on depressed children and teens. Studies have consistently shown that exercise is one of the top three things that can help a child or youth stay ahead of depression.  New research in the past decade, indicates that mindfulness, yoga and meditation are hugely effective methods to help students cope with depression. However useful, exercise, meditation and mindfulness are not miracle workers. Don't forget that if you are not a clinician, be sure to immediately seek mental health guidance if you have any safety concerns about a depressed child. It is always better to play it safe as the severity of a youngster's depression is often not readily apparent.

Power Talk
Talk is the other intervention that studies have shown to be potentially quite useful to help depressed children and adolescents moderate the amount of sadness they are experiencing. We recommend that you combine this intervention with the preceding method– exercise. For example, you and the student can walk rapidly around your site while the child gets to talk about any issues that may be of concern. You can "Power Talk while you Power Walk". Children who "talk it out", are far less likely to "act it out". They are also less likely to "act it in"– to hurt themselves with behaviors such as self-harm, self-endangering, substance abuse or other similar self-destructive actions. Depression can be both acted out and acted in. We tend to think of depression as just being acted in, but it can be either.

For Right Now
For children who are sad about things from the past or future, ask them "What's wrong with this moment?" If they say that nothing is wrong right now, then ask them "Why would you waste the present worrying about what's done…or what may never happen?" Assist students to avoid squandering the present moment for a problematic past or potentially problematic future. This intervention reflects mindfulness concepts beautifully if you are helping your students learn to be more mindful.


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student with SEDDepression Solves What?
For children and adolescents who are often mired in depression, ask them to tell you exactly what depression solves. Assist the students to understand that depression solves nothing, and can make things worse when the child neglects responsibilities or shirks work due to sadness.

Cancel Stinkin' Thinking
Now that you have your students realizing that depression never solves anything, teach them to notice and stop depressing thoughts by thinking "Cancel" whenever they notice negative thinking. You can call the negative thinking "stinkin' thinking." If students protest that they will never be able to turn off all the negative thoughts, reassure them that just noticing the negative thinking is a huge first step. "Sell" the idea of reducing negative thinking by emphasizing that students will be probably more comfortable and experience less pain by simply reducing the amount of negative thoughts.

Take Action
Train depressed students to take an action rather than just wallow in sadness. This intervention is the perfect follow-up to the two approaches shown immediately above.

Depression Time
For students who really hesitate to take steps to stop their negative thoughts, suggest to these youngsters that they simply try to reduce the number of minutes spent on negativity. Next, point out that there will always be plenty of time to be depressed later, that students aren't giving up anything, they can always choose to be sad again later. Alternatively, have students determine how many minutes per day they spend dwelling on sad thoughts, then have them reduce the time by a percentage that is acceptable to them.

Important Reminder for Non-Mental Health Professionals: Please be sure to remember this article is no substitute for consulting your site's mental health professionals if there is any possibility of safety issues with a student who appears depressed or to be S.E.D. If you aren't sure, always immediately consult your mental health staff or your supervisor. These strategies are innovative techniques that may help this population, but these methods do not in any way replace immediately consulting a clinician with any and all safety concerns a child or teen may present. To learn more than this small strategy sampler offers, come to a workshop, enroll in an online course, or check out our books.
 


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How Counselors and Teachers Can Help Troubled Students in Class

 

guide to helping troubled students in class

 

How Counselors and Teachers

Can Help Troubled Students

in Class

 
 

 

There are always words more dignified
than concealment"

–writer Anne Lamott
 

how to help troubled studentsRegardless of what type of job you do with youth and children, a part of that job should include noticing youngsters who may be suffering through unspeakable events at home. So, whatever your role with children, the information contained in this issue is critical, perhaps even life-saving for your children who are living with terrible pain and sadness.

My name is Ruth Herman Wells, M.S. I've spent my whole life learning everything I can about troubled students, and I lecture and teach on the topic all over North America. I have also written books and created online courses on the topic.

When a child is 6 or 16, keeping a secret may seem like the only option when life gets scary. So, you may not be able tell from the words you hear from the youngsters in your classroom or office, but the number of children living with "bad secrets" might shock you. Although sometimes the child's behavior may give a hint of what goes unsaid, here are the best guesses as to how much pain children may actually live with. These numbers are only guesses drawn from research, but no one knows for sure, so feel free to disagree with the guesses. These numbers are offered to illustrate the high frequency of serious family problems that may exist.

Kids may not talk about it, but estimates are that about 15% of students may struggle with substances, or have a family member who struggles. In some regions, this number may seem low so adjust accordingly if alcohol and drug abuse are of particular concern in your area.

About 12% of your students are severely emotionally disturbed, or have a family member who is facing this problem.

how to help troubled studentsThe biggest problem facing your students in terms of frequency may be this next problem. A surprising 20% or more of youngsters live with sexual abuse or incest. More precisely, 1 in 3 of your girls, and 1 in 5 of your boys live with sexual abuse or incest. Of all the problem areas that students don't talk about, this problem may occur the most– but be the least likely to be disclosed.

At least 15% of your students– or others in the family system– live with verbal, physical and/or emotional abuse.

These problem areas can and do overlap. A child can be living with both beatings and incest, and also have an alcoholic parent, for example. These numbers may document what you suspect: that you are seeing more and more troubled students who cope with very serious family problems.

You already know that when a student discloses, as a youth professional, you must report the abuse to the proper authorities. More commonly, however, you have only suspicions with nothing concrete to support your fears. Here are some strategies to use with children who may be carrying such a heavy load that it may make it difficult or even impossible to successfully teach, counsel or help them.

 

student with mental health problemsStrategies to Help Troubled Students
 

STRATEGY
Would You Tell?

It is critical to understand why children don't tell the secret of what is happening at home. Here is a way to give you that insight: Name all the things that you care about the most on earth. You probably think of family, pets, your home, and friends. That is what the child can lose by telling. That's why so many kids don't tell. This understanding may sometimes help you clarify what is going on when you are not sure what is happening with a child.

 

STRATEGY
Before Anything is Said

You may want to be sure that your youngsters know the ramifications of telling before they tell. For example, at the start of the school year, teachers can tell students that if necessary, they are able to help with serious problems from home– and specify what types of problems that means. But, consider if that statement needs to also include honestly revealing what can happen next with regards to reporting requirements, and what consequences can result. Make sure that you use this strategy in a manner that is in keeping with the policies at your site, and that implementation is done in an age-appropriate manner.

Children may need to know what could happen if they disclose so they won't be devastated to later discover that they went "from the frying pan to the fire," saying "I never would have told if I knew what would happen!" At our workshop, we hear countless tragic stories of children who are not removed from perpetrators after disclosure and are harmed or killed; and we hear about children whose most private woes become front page news, and so on. If your child protection system– like many– might struggle to offer good help, consider telling the child that. Ideally, non-mental health workers should cover this information with the help of a counselor. Your goal is to be sure that students know how to identify adults who can help during times of crisis, and to honestly convey the results that the adults would likely produce.


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student with emotional problemsSTRATEGY
These Conditions Must Apply

If you do want to be available to help children who suffer, what can you do if you are not a counselor? First, if you do get a disclosure, get a counselor to help right away. Second, you can create an environment that feels safe enough that a deeply distressed child could trust it to accept help. There are a number of conditions that can create that safety. Here are just a few of the most important: Children want confidentiality; they need to know that their problems won't be blabbed everywhere. They want to know that they will have a say in what happens next. They want the adult to know what to do to help, not become upset, overwhelmed or agitated. They want to have a chance to say what they want to say without being cut off or sent away. They want to be treated with respect no matter how "horrible" their story.
 

STRATEGY
Your Role

You may feel that you just want to teach 7th grade, or just do recreational activities with kids, because that is the type of work you signed up for. You may have never anticipated having to possibly become involved with terribly difficult problems from home. Those feelings are completely understandable, but they may not fit our contemporary times very well when so many children live their lives in fear and pain. Although it may not be written on your job description, perhaps everyone who works with youth, needs to be attentive to the needs of troubled youth. If youth workers can't see the pain, then who will?

So many students in crisis later lament that no adult ever seemed to notice or care about what they were going through. You could.


STRATEGY
Strike a Balance

You may wonder how you can do your job when working with children who are devastated from what they endure at home. Here is a simple guideline to maximize your effectiveness with your distressed children: You never abandon your mission but you don't accomplish it at all costs. That means that you provide accommodations to the student when she appears distressed, and you increase your expectations at those times when the student appears more functional. If you can strike that balance, you can best offer your service to the troubled child without adding to the woes that the child already shoulders.

 

help troubled girls bookChild's Guide Troubled Family bookLIKE THESE STRATEGIES?

We have thousands more in our books, online courses and workshops. The smattering of resources listed in this issue are just a few of the solutions we have. Find more on this topic in our Child's Guide to Surviving in a Troubled Family, and What Every Girl Needs to Know About the Real World books and ebooks. When you are struggling with your troubled, sad, withdrawn, and distressed students, think of Youth Change Workshops. We can help!
 

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School Counseling Tips: How to Talk to Children About Death

 

teacher classroom management blog

 

School Counseling Tips:
How to Talk to Children About Death
 

 

 

school counselingSchool counseling is a tough job to do. As a school counselor, you must be ready to help with virtually any social, emotional, family or academic problem that can arise. School counselors cover it all, from bullying to depression, from domestic violence to drugs, from college planning to mental health issues.

School counselors see plenty of the mental health issues that are tough to manage. However, talking to kids about death can be a task school counselors face at least once or more each school year. Having that conversation probably ranks pretty high for difficult, delicate subjects to focus on with children and teens in school counseling sessions. There's certainly the potential to ease or avoid pain, to enlighten, even elevate a child, but there is certainly the potential to confuse, worsen or cause pain, or even frighten or damage a youngster.

Hello from Ruth Herman Wells, M.S. I am a national expert on helping troubled and challenged children and teens. I have written dozens of books, am an adjunct professor for two universities. I also write a column for a national print education magazine, and I train thousands of teachers, counselors and parents annually throughout North American.school counseling conference I also raised two children who turned out to be a social worker and a special ed teacher so I guess I can walk the walk and not just talk the talk.

School counseling is the lifeline for many troubled, disturbed and challenged students. For some of these youngsters, the quality of the school counseling that a child receives can be the single most important force determining whether a child sinks or swims, struggles or thrives. With that in mind, I offer this quick how-to guide to use in counseling, teaching, parenting and elsewhere.

One of my specialty areas is helping children and teens cope with loss. The truth is that children are not uniform creatures and there is no one single right way to talk to a child about death and dying. Having said that, I can offer a few guidelines that are easy for adults to remember and use. I have crafted these how-to steps to be useable by school counselors, teachers, juvenile court staff, social workers and other professionals but these tips have been written to be readily accessible by parents and non-professionals too.

school counselorFirst, use actual life events as your jumping off point rather than mechanically or artificially stage a conversation. Parents can start the conversation as young as they wish, but around 2 years old is a general suggestion for where to start. So, Mom can say "Please don't stomp that bug because he could end up dead," and then be ready to explain what "dead" means. The explanation of "dead" must be concrete enough that a small child can understand it so pairing the discussion with the concept of "all gone" works great. Use an object and hide it to teach "all gone."


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student assistanceSecond, don't worry too much if the child gets the concept of death the first times it's discussed. You're building up to the a more complete understanding as the child ages and develops. Ideally, Moms and Dads should let the child take the lead, and seek questions that should be gently answered. This is an incremental process. If a death occurs in the life of a young child before the concept has been successfully communicated, then aim to give pieces of the concept bit by bit. Give too much and the child will get overwhelmed and their brain can stop absorbing new information on the topic.

Third, children's brains aren't fully developed so abstract, non-concrete concepts can be confusing. Let them use their frame of reference like having a "ghost dog" that a child imagines after the death of a beloved pet. Creations like "ghost dog" are completely normal and actually quite helpful. It takes the whole huge idea of death– something even us adults struggle with– and cuts it down to be a bit more pint-size. Parents can help their children think up their own creations to bridge the gap if their children don't devise their own "ghost dog." For example, a child might create drawings of the departed pet as a way to remember it, and let it "live" on– if only as their picture on the refrigerator.

student mental healthFourth, older children and teens do grasp the concept of death and how finite it is. However their immature brains can struggle to cope when there is a loss. For teens who do have good abstract thinking abilities, the focus should be especially tuned into how the older child or teen is coping. Counselors, teachers, school staff and parents shouldn't just judge the book by its cover, and should be alert for acting-out or more covert acting-in behaviors like substance abuse, self-endangering or problems in school.

Finally, loss is part of life, and is just another difficult job that should fall to parents. Waiting to address the subject until the child is older is never a good plan. It will always be tougher for a school counselor to step in late in the game than for a parent to be gently imparting information all along the way.

For parents who are unsure of when to introduce talking about death, sooner is better. So long as they are gentle and let the child take the lead, while observing for distress, it is always better for parents to tell the truth about life– even when the truth is tough to take.

 

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Social-Emotional, Mindfulness Strategies for Depressed Students

 

teacher classroom management blog

 

Moderate Depression with Mindfulness Methods
for K-12 Students

 
 

 

teacher professional development trainerThe holidays are happy times for many students, unhappy times for many others. That makes it a good time to load you up with brand new strategies for depression and sadness.

If you keep up with the latest in K-12 education, you know that social-emotional education and mindfulness instruction are really popular right now. I'm Ruth Herman Wells, Director of Youth Change Professional Development Workshops. We've been offering social and emotional strategies for more than two decades, and many of our approaches are very similar to the mindfulness methods you may have encountered.

Below you will find intervention strategies to help you manage student depression and sadness whether you are a teacher, counselor, foster parent, guidance counselor, therapist, MFT, social worker or school psychologist. While the very simple strategies included here can be useful to almost any student who struggles with their emotions, be sure that you carefully observe for safety issues and immediately consult with your supervisor if you find any. In addition, non mental health clinicians should always seek guidance from a mental health resource person when working with troubled students.

 

Mindful Methods to Mitigate Depression

in Adolescents and Children

 

You Are Not Your Brain

For many students, depression means trying to cope with swirling thoughts that are sad, fatalistic or worrying. Mindfulness methods emphasize teaching children and teens that they are "not their brain'" so that they recognize that they can control their thoughts and potentially feel less victimized and trapped by them. Building this separation between the student and the brain is a key element of Mindfulness.

Introducing the idea that students should not believe everything they think, can be a powerful tool assisting depressed, sad and anxious youngsters. Neurobiologists have noted that this strategy builds new brain pathways. They report that by limiting negative thoughts, the negative pathways can be reduced. They also note that by increasing positive or neutral thoughts, more positive pathways are built. They compare it to shrinking a freeway and building a new, more positive one. Use this image to demonstrate the concept more concretely to students.

 

Productive or Destructive

Another key concept from Mindfulness is to work to limit time devoted to thinking non-productive thoughts. Students may worry about tests or grades or Dad's drinking or Mom's hitting. In some youngsters,  these negative thoughts can trigger depression– especially if the student has profoundly upsetting or persistent thoughts. Many Mindfulness methods offer potential relief.

A simple technique to use is to ask the student to consider if the upsetting thoughts are productive or destructive. They can be asked to specifically identify the benefits and consequences of persistent negative thoughts. Most students can be assisted to realize that they are experiencing significant consequences from frequent negative thoughts while few positive benefits are found. To make this strategy work with younger students and others, have them make a list. Have them start by writing down a frequent negative thought then sorting the Benefits and Consequences in columns.

 

Accepting the Hand You're Dealt

mindfulness posterSome students have trouble accepting the ups and downs of life and become depressed when life isn't what they imagined. You can use card games to teach them to accept the hand they are dealt. Also use card games to explore if becoming sad or depressed fixes or improves anything. To help cement in the message of acceptance, offer and discuss the meaning of the words shown on our Poster #334: If the leaves didn't fall, there would be no spring.

 

Thoughts Are Just Visitors to the House

Mindfulness expert Jack Kornfield has shared a very sweet but effective strategy that stems from Buddhist practice. To implement this simple intervention, simply tell students that they can imagine that upsetting thoughts are like visitors to their home. Next, ask your youngsters to imagine that the visiting thoughts are coming in through the front door of the house. Suggest that instead of screaming at this visitor, cooking for that visitor, or hiding from this other visitor, that students simply watch the visitors and what they do. This wonderful emotion management technique helps students become more detached and distanced from the negative thoughts that have been upsetting them.

 

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Turn Down the Voices Inside My Head

"Turn Down the Voices Inside My Head" isn't just a line from a popular Bonnie Raitt song, it's a very quick and effective technique to help students manage troubling emotions like depression. Ask the student to imagine that there is a volume control and that they can turn down the volume on upsetting thoughts, or even mute them. For younger students, help the child create a drawing of the volume control knob working to help them better manage their upsetting emotions.

 

Fight-Flight-Freeze or Flow

Many Mindfulness practitioners and other mental health clinicians believe that humans have four basic states: Fight, Flight, Freeze or Flow. Mindfulness is an emerging counseling style with distinct Buddhist roots and current neurobiology as its base. Distilled down, it means paying attention to the present while observing thoughts and feelings in a non-judgmental manner. It has been clinically demonstrated by neurobiologists to help improve depression and other problematic emotions so you can rest assured the kind of techniques suggested here have wide acceptance and a strong research foundation.

To help students who are depressed or facing similar negative emotions, teach them about the four states and encourage them to move towards Flow. The more students can identify their current state, the better the chance that they can manage that state rather than be swept along by out-of-control feelings. This is part of what is meant by "Name it to tame it." Emotions have less power on people when the emotion has been identified. Conversely, students can feel "freaked out," "crazy" or like they are spiraling down when the emotions seem to be this powerful, frightening unnamed thing that's in charge.

Help students become familiar with each of the four terms by soliciting examples of each. An example of Fight: Verbally sparring with your mom. An example of Flight: Running out of the room when bullied. An example of Freeze: Seizing up and not being able to talk after a car accident. An example of Flow: Pure happiness and joy when swimming.

 

Distraction is Subtraction

Distraction is a fantastic initial strategy to help children and teens manage problem emotions. You can teach them that "Distraction is Subtraction," meaning that by re-focusing, the student can sometimes subtract or reduce the problem emotion. Suggest that students find three things they see in the present and then find three things they like about each. Not only does this simple strategy interrupt what may have been on-going negative thoughts, it also re-orients the student to the present. Being oriented to the present moment is a key principle of Mindfulness, and has the benefit of being a perfect antidote for depression, sadness, anxiety and other troubling emotions that may be impairing students' functioning.

 

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    Schedule the Breakthrough Strategies to Teach and Counsel Troubled Workshop to come to your site. This is the one professional development inservice that produces results, results, results. Call 1.800.545.5736 now. This surprisingly affordable inservice also makes a terrific fund raiser. College credit and 10 professional development clock hours are available. Your staff will finally have the more effective, real-world tools they need to work with today’s challenging, difficult youth.

     

    Contact us now, and begin solving your worst “kid problems” today. Call 1.800.545.5736, or email.

     

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How to Help Children Cope with Their Emotions in the Aftermath of Violence at the Boston Marathon

 

behavior classroom management blog

 

How to Help Children Cope with Their Emotions

 

in the Aftermath of Violence

 

at the Boston Marathon

 

Includes  Free Classroom Posters

 

 

 

 

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In This Issue:

speaker Ruth Herman WellsOur thoughts go out to all of you in the Boston region as well as those of your affected by the tragedy at the marathon yesterday.

When it comes to violence, it's been another rough week for the U.S. It's the third major episode of extreme violence in 5 months. It's also the third major episode of violence that I have a personal connection to. The Boston Marathon bombing occurred yesterday, and the Newtown CT  and Oregon mall shootings happened last December.

This is Ruth Herman Wells writing this issue. I grew up in Massachusetts, about half way between Boston and Newtown. I live 30 minutes from the site of the Oregon mall shooting.

All these connections make the recent outbreaks of large scale violence seem close and personal. Some of your students may have similar connections and similar reactions.

Unlike adults, many of your students lack sophisticated coping mechanisms to manage the fear and anxiety that big incidents of violence can generate. This issue of the blog is going to offer some fresh ideas on what you should do– and not do– to help. The accepted standard methods have changed, and are changing as we speak, so this could be an important update for you to read.

This issue will also direct you to follow-up resources that can guide you to help your children and youth who may be struggling with yet another frightening event of extreme violence. As someone who often ends up helping schools cope in the aftermath of tragedy, I am passing on some of the hard-won wisdom I have gathered in the years since 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, and most recently, Sandy Hook.

 

Children in the Aftermath of Violence:
What to Do, What Not to Do
 

Many Common Methods Now Counter-Indicated

Many neurobiologists say that they have learned more about how the brain works in the past 5 years than in all the years preceding. That is a lot of progress. The new research strongly suggests that you can help or hurt children after a violent incident far more than was previously believed. 

The go-to plan in the past has been to encourage talking, writing, drawing and reflection on the traumatic event by affected children and teens.

While obviously some discussion and acknowledgement is inevitable and necessary, in the past mental health clinicians often encouraged children to focus on the event beyond the minimum necessary.

New research now offers the concern that too much of a focus sears new painful paths into the brain. The updated goal: Strike the balance between acknowledgement and refocusing.

What does it mean to help children refocus? Limit the exposure of children and teens to the details of the tragedy especially television or video coverage. Channel their emotions into things that help them cope. Some specific use-today strategies are shown below. These intervention methods were all created or inspired by special ed teacher Chris Wells.


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Soothe the Brain

Just as exposure to vivid depictions of the violence can cause the brain to develop new problematic paths, the reverse is also true: You can help the brain develop new paths that help children cope.

The late children's TV host Mr. Rogers is reported to have said “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'”  That type of approach is perfect for today when we are less than 24 hours beyond the Boston bombing.

 

Distract the Brain

When you drive by a big car accident, you know you shouldn't look, but a lot of us do it anyway. Some of us then regret viewing something so upsetting. When there has been a terrible act of violence, like yesterday's Boston Marathon bombing, many of us are tempted to look.  For children who lack the relatively sophisticated coping mechanisms of mature adults, it's very important not to stop and look.

school poster It is really important to distract children from perseverating on what happened. For children who won't let go, you can certainly choose to find things that have some type of connection to tragedy but that aren't likely to deepen pain or anxiety. The classic intervention to use: Have students help those victimized in the attack by taking up a collection, for example.

This is the perfect time for exposing children to how others have triumphed over violence or adversity. You can use stories of marathon survivors, or it's fine to choose stories with no connection. These strategies help create strong, positive paths in the brain that can be of benefit for a lifetime, according to leading brain researchers like Dr. Dan Siegel and Dr. Rick Hanson.

We created Poster #289 (shown above) to help children who become fearful to the point that they want to withdraw from normal activities. free classroom posterThe poster says "Don't let others stop you from being who you are because of who they are."

You can download a free printable version of Poster #289 here.

Older children can discuss the saying on the poster. Methods like this help children cope without going deeper into the type of exposure that can sear fear into young brains.

Another activity: Provide your students with a background similar to that shown on Poster #289. You can download this printable poster free, then have students use computers or paper for this activity. Ask your students to write a saying or poem, or create a picture to inspire or help others to cope in the aftermath of tragedy. They can also use this background to make cards or signs that can be sent to Boston hospitals to encourage victims, or to thank doctors, police, EMTs and firefighters.
 

Teach Resiliency

Teach students that when runners fall down, they get right back up and keep going. Have your youngsters discuss how they can put on their running shoes, lace them up and keep going.
 

More Resources on
Helping Children in the Aftermath of Violence

Sadly, I have had a lot of opportunity to write down what I've learned about helping children and teens cope with terrorism, natural disasters and violence so I do have more articles for you to expand your skills.

Repeat incidents of extreme violence do take a toll on all of us, including your children and teens. If you think you see a cumulative effect, you are probably right. Unsettled times often worsen unsettled minds. That will be especially true in New England, where two horrific incidents have occurred in a short time frame. Find the additional guides here:


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