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 However, there are plenty of elementary teachers that now find that term to be woefully out of date as they report seeing far more severe and far more frequent issues in the youngest students.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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Social-Emotional Learning Strategies to Improve Student Behavior

 

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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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    teachermissYou have students who struggle. We have solutions for students who struggle…so your job doesn’t have to be so difficult. We have cutting-edge strategies to manage group and classroom management problems like behavior disorders, trauma, disrespect, bullying, emotional issues, withdrawal, substance abuse, tardiness, cyberbullying, delinquency, work refusal, defiance, depression, Asperger’s, ADHD and more.

     

    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
    http://www.youthchg.com | 1.503.982.4220 | 275 N. 3rd St; Woodburn, OR 97071
    © Copyright 2019, All Rights Reserved | Permission granted to forward magazine to others.


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

 

teacher classroom management blog

 

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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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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    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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How to Help Children and Teens Cope with the Violence and Tragedy of the CT Massacre

 

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teacher help
 

SPECIAL ISSUE:

How to Help Children and Teens
Cope with the Violence and Tragedy
of the CT Massacre

 

rwteach2

Youth Change Workshops is based outside Portland, Oregon, 30 miles from the Tuesday, December 11 mall shooting. I am Ruth Herman Wells, Director of Youth Change. I grew up just 75 minutes away from Friday's shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, CT. Even though I have devoted my life to helping schools and teachers work with students who struggle with problems like coping with trauma and tragedy, like you, I was knocked to the ground by the two horrific shooting massacres. Because I had ties to both shooting sites, the horror seemed very personal and close to home. Many of you may have had a similar reaction.

After 911 and Katrina, I was asked to help many schools and teaching staffs to learn how to best recover from the traumatic events in those regions. Since that time, research into the brain has really advanced, and mental health counselors now have a bit better understanding of what to do– and not do– to help children cope with and rebound from extreme tragedy like last week's deadly violence. Those new insights are incorporated into the guide below.

The guide is intended for use by teachers, counselors, and other adults who may be struggling to understand what to do in the aftermath of the horror at Sandy Hook. This guide covers K-12 students, and both students with pre-existing challenges, and those without. The guide is intended for use with students who were in proximity to the tragedies, as well as those who were not in proximity, but still deeply affected.

Youth Change Workshops exists for one purpose: To help educators, mental health professionals, and other youth professionals to help troubled youth. In addition to the help offered in this how-to guide, Youth Change is available to assist you further (without charge). You can reply to this email, call us at 503.982.4220, reach us via our Contact page, or click on the Live Expert Help icon that is at the bottom right corner of every page on our website, http://www.youthchg.com. This guide is no substitute for consulting a local mental health professional, which you are legally bound to do if you suspect a child may be at risk of serious harm or self-harm.

 

A Dozen New Guidelines:

How to Help Children and Teens
Cope with Extreme Violence and Tragedy

1. Don't Board the Upsetting Thought Train

For children who are having trouble managing their thoughts following the week of violence: Have the child look at the upsetting thought and figure out "if that thought was a train, where would it take me?" If the answer is that the child would end up upset, suggest the child not board that train. Teach children they are not their thoughts; they have the power to control what they are thinking. Recent research by psychiatrist Dr. Daniel Siegel and others suggests we have more ability to manage our upsetting thoughts than previously believed.

2. Who is in Charge of the Thought Train?

Children tend to say "I had this upsetting thought…" New research by Dr. Siegel indicates that it is critical to teach children that they aren't their thoughts, that they have a choice about whether to pursue thoughts that upset them. So, teach children and teens to say instead: "My mind offered me this thought…" That distinction reinforces the idea to students that they are not their thoughts. That distinction also helps them remember that they can be the boss/engineer of their "thought train," not a helpless victim of it. Since the hallmark of depression is powerlessness, this strategy is fantastic for use with depressed students.

3. There is No "Right Way" to React to a Horrible Wrong

A Holocaust survivor wrote that "an abnormal reaction to abnormal circumstances is normal." That means there is no "right way" for children and teens to endure. Watch instead for the severity of the reaction, the denial or avoidance. A "different" reaction doesn't necessarily equate with worse, but if the response appears to be extremely problematic– immediately or long term– that's the signal to become concerned.

4. New Research Changes the Old "Talk About It" Guideline

Mental health experts have always believed that children and teens need to have the chance to "talk out" traumatic events. Counselors call this "processing" the event. We used to think that having youngsters talk about– or draw about, write about, or otherwise process the trauma– was extremely important. New brain research puts a new spin on this long-hold truth.

Studies are showing that while venting or expressing about upsetting events is still important, there comes a point when the processing can become ruminating. The key point here is that processing is supposed to help children feel better, but ruminating can really increase depression and sadness.

When does processing become ruminating? That's tough to pinpoint. Perhaps the best indicator is to watch the impact on the child's body and emotions/demeanor. If the youngster is becoming more agitated, anxious, upset, sad, or depressed, that's not good. If the youngster's body is showing increasing or beginning distress, that's also not good. If you want to help your students process the tragedy without causing harm, stick with brief headlines vs prolonged discussions, and permit no graphic comments within groups. Work individually with students who persist in making graphic depictions to avoid upsetting other youngsters.

5. Watch for Fight, Flight and Freeze Reactions

During extremely traumatic times, children tend to either engage in fight, flight or freeze behavior. These behaviors are built-in survival mechanisms common to many species. If you spot these reactions in your students who are struggling, you can educate students about how our bodies can help us during extremely difficult times by using the fight, flight or freeze reaction. Next, you can talk about how bodies also know how to recover. Discuss with students what rebounding might look like for each of them. Alternatively, have students create art, writing or digital projects portraying how they will look when they have rebounded. Having students portray this outcome can help create the outcome.

6. Radically Revised Rules for Trauma Recovery

Historically, for counselors and other mental health providers, the goal after a traumatic incident was typically to help children and teens process the tragedy. New work by Peter Levine and others, suggests that is not the correct goal, and, even worse, can result in re-traumatizing youngsters.

Dr. Levine believes that by focusing on and re-examining what happened, people re-live the scary events. Levine has studied how animals respond to trauma. After a terrifying event, animals "re-set" their nervous system and return to a focus on the present. Based on his research, he recommends that you and your children do not have a prolonged focus on the traumatic incident, i.e. don't extensively process content. Levine believes that counselors and others should focus instead on helping the ramped-up sympathetic nervous system calm.

Not sure he's right? Watch what happens to the bodies of children who are re-telling the traumatic event and/or recapping their reaction to the incident. You may notice that these students get more agitated and more upset. Now, help the child focus on the present, even perhaps momentarily forgetting the event. You can see the body relax. That's why calming the out-of-control sympathetic nervous system should be your goal instead of processing the event.

7. Cancel the Past, Replace it With the Safe Present

So, in an update to accepted practice, it appears that calming the nervous system is becoming the best goal to have when striving to help traumatized children. One of the best tools to calm the agitated nervous system is to have children focus on the present. A quick way to do that: Ask your youngsters to find 3 things that they see and like, and to tell you what they like about each thing. That stops the focus on the scary or the sad, and can help shift each child to the safety of the present. You can teach children to do that procedure on their own: To "cancel" the upsetting past, and to "replace it" with the "safe present."

8. Switch to the New Trail with Repetition, Repetition, Repetition

In the past decade or so, we've come to understand that the brain works a bit like a trail through the forest– the more you walk the trail, the more defined that trail becomes. If you switch to a new trail, that old unused trail can eventually fade out a lot or a little. Even though I am stating the research in very simple ways, that doesn't denigrate the importance of it. This new insight means that researchers know now that people can literally re-wire their brains. Brain researches often quip: Neurons that fire together, wire together. Teach students to switch trails, to leave the painful path behind.

9. When Students Say They Can't Think, Can't Learn

You may already be hearing students say they can't concentrate, they can't think, and they can't learn. There is a lot of truth to those claims. Brain researchers believe that when the sympathetic nervous system is activated, the brain goes into a laser-focus mode. In nature, this single focus helped animals stay safe, but in humans this survival mechanism can persist long after it is needed for physical survival. When the sympathetic nervous system calms, your students' ability to focus, concentrate and learn should return. You can't demand students just get those lost abilities back on command. If you want to try to encourage this process, engage your students in activities that will help soothe and calm the nervous system. Even simple activities like having students talk about happy experiences or events can help.

10. Stop Thinking and Start Acting

For students who seem to really perseverate on the traumatic incidents, help them stop thinking and start taking useful actions. Actions can be anything positive, from starting a collection for the Sandy Hook students to going for a walk instead of sitting and recapitulating the upset. For students who seem to want to "rummage through the trash," teach them to "dump the trash" then take a "clean-up" action.

11. Watch Out for the Con Man

When you teach students to terminate upsetting thoughts or memories, they may tell you they feel insensitive, or callous, or selfish, or petty for not continuing to suffer. Teach students about the "con man" who will trick them into believing that the "Path of Pain" is the only path to be on. Teach students that children should never have to suffer, and any thought that suggests otherwise is just a sneaky Con Man.

12. Finding the Beauty That Still Remains

Understandably, children and adolescents may believe that there is no road back to happiness. After there is some distance in time from the precipitating event, teach students that throughout history, children and teens have triumphed overly seemingly overwhelming adversity, and that their own minds and bodies are equipped to ultimately rebound too. You want to inspire, and offer hope, but without adding any pressure, time frames, or the expectation of universal conformity. Offer students examples of children and teens who have overcome obstacles. Consider using excerpts from Anne Frank's diary to inspire older students to discover in Anne's words, "the beauty still left around you."

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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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Human Pressure Cookers: If Anguish Turns Violent Do You Know What to Do?

 

school discipline blog for teachers


Human Pressure Cookers
If Anguish Turns Violent
Do You Know What to Do?

 


workshop trainer Ruth Herman WellsIn 2005, annual state-wide testing in Texas included
an essay section. Of the one million essays submitted, nearly 700 youngsters wrote about their own abuse, neglect or rape (USA Today, March 28, 2005). Around the same time, The New York Times suggested that a recent Minnesota school shooting may have occurred because "anguish turned homicidal." In the next sentence, they wrote: "Teachers are ill-prepared to identify and address the normal emotional difficulties of their students, much less the aberrational ones." Further, they correctly observe that "school counselors, who are better suited for the task, are severely outnumbered."

Those words from 2005 carry even more weight 6 years later as counselors are often among the first staff jettisoned in the ubiquitous layoffs of our current difficult economic times.

For more than two decades, I have criss-crossed North America training teachers, counselors, principals and other youth workers to better understand and assist troubled youth and children. I'm Ruth Herman Wells, M.S., Director of Youth Change. For all those years, I have been saying over and over, in school after school, in city after city, that anguish can easily become rage.

However, the media continues to simplistically lump together all students who engage in serious school violence such as school shootings, and repeatedly names bullying as the sole cause of the extreme behavior. That over-simplified sound bite has made my job much harder because bullying is often not the sole– or even primary– contributing force that spurred tragedy.

The central force was the developing rage and on-going depression. The
simplistic focus on bullying means that quiet anguish that doesn't involve bullying, can more easily pass unnoticed by adults and any opportunity for prevention is lost. It is very discouraging that in my workshops, most teachers, principals, counselors, and other youth workers do cite bullying as the main cause of school shootings. In the 2005 Minnesota case, the young shooter was a pressure cooker. The signs of depression, alienation and frustration were there to see; and bullying may not have been a factor at all.

It is time for youth professionals to refine how they view school shooters. By subscribing to media characterizations that over-emphasize bullying, youth workers are more likely to miss the most important clues: depression, anguish and frustration. These powerhouse emotions can easily occur without any bullying.

If you want to become better prepared to notice and understand youngsters who are human pressure cookers, there is only one option. If your background does not include mental health basics, now is the time to upgrade your skills. Concern about a potential tragedy at your site is not the sole reason that non-mental health workers must finally broaden their expertise. The real reason that these youth professionals must become more skilled in basic mental health methods is that for every sad child who does pick up a gun, there are hundreds more who struggle and suffer more quietly. We now know that by 2005 there were at least 700 of them in Texas.

Children in Oregon have also confessed distress in that state's essay exam. Some of those sad stories lacked proper punctuation, or had sub-standard sentence structure, and ultimately received failing grades. A child tells of beatings or a recent rape, or writes of homelessness, or a lost parent. Not only will the cry for help fail to be answered, the cry for help itself is graded as failing.

In 2005 in Texas, a student died the day before the state-wide exam was scheduled. The school staff asked to delay the exam to allow the children time to grieve. The students were nonetheless required to take the test, seated next to the empty desk of their newly dead friend and classmate.

High stakes testing mania has become the center of the education universe. It consumes countless dollars, aggressively devours teachers' time, and diminishes the importance of every other educational activity. If a teacher wants to keep her job, she must produce the right testing numbers. With eyes firmly focused on testing, teachers are left precious little time to even think, never mind notice children's anguish.

Testing is most certainly not the cause of this country's problems with extreme school violence, but testing has most certainly contributed to the problem. Flunking cry for help essays, compelling testing even hours after death, and our relentless pursuit of magic numbers are just a few of the ways that we sacrifice children's humanity to the gods of testing.

If we put a mere 10% of the effort we devote to testing mania, into noticing and helping deeply troubled children, perhaps we could stop some of the shootings before they occur. Further, since you can't push profoundly distressed children to perform well on tests anyway, perhaps by noticing and attending to the distress, many sad children would accomplish more academically.

 

How Prepared is Your School to Notice and Help

Troubled Children?


How do you know if your team is properly noticing and helping distressed students? Further below is a quick litmus test to determine if your team has a solid, basic mental health knowledge base, plus the inclination and willingness to notice deeply depressed youngsters who might one day explode; brief answers are provided as applicable:

1. Can your staff name the 3 students at highest risk of engaging in
extreme violence?
Answer: Conduct disorders; thought disorders; extreme agitated,
depressed kids.


2. Conventional behavior management methods don't work with the
three students identified in Question #1. Does your staff know how they must intervene differently with each of those three types of students?


3. Can your staff name the symptoms of major, clinical depression, and the three methods that work best to prevent explosive rage?
Answer: There are a vast array of symptoms that can signal depression. While only mental health professionals can diagnose,
all youth workers can watch for sad moods especially without
apparent cause, diminished enthusiasm, anxiety, hopelessness,
feelings of worthlessness, helplessness, problems with concentration, changes in sleep, changes in weight, changes in
appetite, and suicidal gesturing or comments. These are a few
of the most common signs. The best methods to address
depression, especially with the help of your school counselor:
exercise, talking and carefully monitored anti-depressants.


4. Can your staff name the most important methods to use– and not
use– with conduct disordered students?
Answer: The single most important method is to keep the costs
of misbehavior high, and the benefits low. For diagnosed
conduct disorders, all conventional, relationship-based
approaches should be discontinued since they often make the
problems worse while failing to produce improvement. If you
have used conventional methods to rein in conduct disordered
students, you may have ended up feeling that "nothing works"
to control their misbehavior.


5. Is there a mechanism at your site or within your community to
ensure that all children are noticed by their teacher, mentor or other
adult so that warning signs (like violent website postings, essays
expressing distress, threatening remarks, alienation, and desperation)
are not missed?


6. Candidly speaking, what would your staff say is the highest priority at your site?
Answer: Academic achievement and high testing scores really
shouldn't be the top answer in our current violent times. The top answer offered by your team should be site safety, or else safety is not the priority that it must be in our current violent times. Educational goals will quickly assume lower status if your team ever loses students or staff in a shooting or other tragedy. School safety should be the one thing that is more important than anything else that occurs within the walls of your school. Without school safety, nothing else matters.

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    Bring the Breakthrough Strategies Workshop to Your Site

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    teachermissYou have students who struggle. We have solutions for students who struggle…so your job doesn’t have to be so difficult. We have cutting-edge strategies to manage group and classroom management problems like behavior disorders, trauma, disrespect, bullying, emotional issues, withdrawal, substance abuse, tardiness, cyberbullying, delinquency, work refusal, defiance, depression, Asperger’s, ADHD and more.

     

    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.

     

    Working with Troubled Students Doesn’t Have to be So Difficult
     


    Behavior & Classroom Management Problem-Solver Blog Articles

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    Library of Congress ISSN: 1526-9981 | Youth Change, Your Problem-Kid Problem-Solver
    http://www.youthchg.com | 1.503.982.4220 | 275 N. 3rd St; Woodburn, OR 97071
    © Copyright 2019, All Rights Reserved | Permission granted to forward magazine to others.


Children’s Pain Relievers: Your Actions Can Ease or Worsen Children’s Trauma and Tragedy

 

early childhood education expert

 

Essential Children's Pain Relievers: Your Actions Can Ease or Worsen Trauma and Tragedy

 
 

 

early education keynote speakerPresenting our Breakthrough Strategies to Teach and Counsel Troubled Youth Workshop at schools in Katrina-ravaged New Orleans and Waveland, Mississippi in the past few weeks was a real eye-opener. While most of our readers will hopefully never have to cope with the level of trauma that the Gulf Coast area still faces, you still will encounter your share of youngsters coping with death, divorce, loss, abuse, and other tragedy. It is critical that you know as much as you can about working with these students as even little mistakes can be quite damaging to youngsters who are struggling.

I'm Ruth Herman Wells, M.S. I write books and give workshops on how to help children and teens to cope with crisis and trauma. I want to share with you some of my best ideas that can help children and adolescents to weather serious emotional turmoil.

We were totally shocked to see that schools throughout the Katrina region are still in pieces. We want to be of service to those of you who are teaching and counseling in tiny trailers or buildings that are still falling down. Whether you work with many traumatized children like professionals on the Gulf Coast, or you encounter them in much smaller numbers, you need to know all you can about helping these fragile youngsters. Here are some of the most important questions posed in our recent Gulf Coast workshops:
 

Helping Children and Teens in Times of Trauma

children traumaComforting Traumatized Students:
In Early Childhood Education,
Elementary, Middle and High School
 

Have more questions on childhood trauma?
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Q: Can traumatized students become ADD?

A: No, trauma can't cause ADD, but trauma can cause symptoms that are similar to some of the symptoms of ADD. So, traumatized students can be distracted, unable to maintain focus, have trouble completing tasks, lose their train of thought, and have little enthusiasm for school. Think back to the last crisis you faced– a car accident, for example. You showed the same symptoms until the crisis ebbed. The symptoms are all normal reactions that can persist.

What To Do: During your crisis, no one could have "forced" you to function better. The same guideline is true for youngsters in crisis. Like you, they are doing the best they can. Since being in pain is no fun, most of us stop feeling bad as quickly as we can. Your students' symptoms should lessen as the crisis lessens, but for on-going crises, expect the symptoms to persist.

For Gulf Coast students still living in trailers, or for youngsters caught in an on-going battle between divorcing parents, the crisis continues– and so do the symptoms. Your expectations should rise and fall with the child's level of functioning. When a child is particularly dissipated, reduce your expectations. On days, the child is more functional, increase expectations. Your goal for distressed children: Work as hard as you can on days that you're able. Is it fair to ask more than that of any distressed human being?

Q: I thought that people are supposed to start "getting over it" one year after major trauma like a death, hurricane or divorce. Is that true?

A: The "One Year Rule" developed because the thinking is that one year after a death, for example, you've made it through all the birthdays, holidays and other painful dates that you will face after your tragedy or loss. That is a major reason why one year is viewed as a marker to gauge the pace of recovery. However, the year starts when the crisis stops. If the crisis persists then the clock really doesn't start ticking toward one year.

What To Do: You probably have no power to hasten the end of the crisis, but that is what the distressed child really needs. Until then, you proceed as described above, expecting students to work as hard as they can on days they are able. In addition, teach students that the One Year Rule is just a guide. Teach them that just as the time needed for a physical wound to heal will vary from person to person, teach them that human beings don't all heal emotionally at one single pace. Conveying this information can alleviate children's guilt over continuing to feel bad after they are "supposed to."

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children in crisisQ: Do I let children in pain use problem behaviors without consequencing them?

A: Each distressed youngster manages their distress differently. Two children can face the exact same trauma, but manage their distress utterly differently. One child may become verbally abusive while another may become almost mute. There is no "right way" for youngsters to manage pain. Even though a child faces difficulty, you can not lower your standards for acting in socially acceptable ways. Courts and police won't accept that excuse so neither can you. You also can not just suspend all customary consequences for misconduct, because the real world won't react that way. Plus, if there are no consequences for misbehavior, then there is no impetus to ever stop misbehaving.

What To Do: You can take extenuating circumstances into account as you mete out consequences. Try to strike the balance between maintaining expectations for conduct, and being sensitive to the difficult circumstances that the child is facing. Remember: "An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behavior." That quote is from Viktor Frankl, a concentration camp survivor. For children who struggle with very grave crises, such as the on-going homelessness of Katrina survivors, there is no "correct" way to react.

While socially inappropriate behaviors can't be tolerated, children in crisis do the best they can. There will never be a "normal" way to react to a year of living in a cramped FEMA trailer. There will never be a "normal" way to react to feeling like a human ping pong ball in divorcing parents' brutal battle. While there may not be a "normal" way to react to overwhelming pain, the pain can't become a license to hurt others or grossly misbehave. Teach your students: "It's okay to be mad. It's not okay to be mean."

Q: Do I have many distressed students?

A: Pain is not always obvious, but here are some guesses on how much pain exists: About 15% of children cope with substance abuse in the home; 10% cope with severe emotional disturbance; 15% live with verbal abuse, beatings, or emotional abuse. A staggering 20% or more live with sexual abuse or incest. Some youngsters face pain in more than one of these areas. Kids seldom announce their distress, but it often drives their behavior. The more you can understand their behavior, the more readily you can manage it.

What To Do: Even though today's teacher works with many traumatized and acting-out students, traditional teacher training typically does not include much course work on the topic. Most teachers need to get this training that their college preparation omitted. If you want more in-depth suggestions on traumatized youth, look at the column on the right side of this page for more educational articles on working with traumatized children and teens.

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