Tips for educators to help youth after community trauma

If you are an educator, it is important to identify behaviors that could indicate a student needs help dealing with their feelings or requires a mental health intervention.

According to The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN), “traumatic events such as a natural disaster; school violence; accidents; traumatic deaths of an educator or peer can impact students’ learning, behavior, and relationships.” The following advice comes from NCTSN

  1. A child feels sad, scared, empty, numb. The child may be clingy, hides feelings, or shares more on social media. As the adult, support the child by listening to concerns and feelings. Educate the child about the range of possible emotions related to trauma. Even though people react differently, try to accommodate the child’s response. 
  2. There are behavioral problems that are new or worsen. Some children may also engage in serious or harmful behaviors.  It is important to have patience, stay calm, and set limits. Having a routine can help a child know what to expect throughout the day. If a child is engaged in dangerous activities or self-harm, refer the child for professional help.  
  3. The child is having trouble focusing on work, activities, or participation. Traumatic experiences will affect a child’s ability to focus and concentrate. As a result, schoolwork may be impacted. Consider a daily task planner for assignments, modifying work, or provide extra instruction.  
  4. The child is experiencing sleep issues and appears tired or irritable. Sleep issues are common and can impact a child’s ability to participate fully. Suggesting healthy sleep habits, such as no electronic devices before bed or using calming coping strategies, can help improve a child’s sleep pattern. 
  5. The child is experiencing physical trauma symptoms such as stomach aches, headaches, a pounding heart, body aches, or fast, shallow breathing. These physical reactions can scare a child, making them even more afraid. Adults can help calm these feelings by suggesting relaxation techniques such as slow breathing or physical activity. 
  6. The child is startled and scared easily in response to everyday noises. First, identify the noise that is startling the child and show how it is not a danger. Reassure the child that they are safe, and the physical responses (feeling startled, tense muscles, fast breathing) are common. Calming techniques such as slow, mindful breathing can help calm nerves.
  7. The child is withdrawn from friends and family or thinks life is meaningless. Previously outgoing students retreat to social media, gaming, or online activities instead of in-person interactions. Participation in positive activities can help a withdrawn child re-engage with peers and other community members. While building trusting relationships can allow a child to cope with sad feelings with in-person support, such as talking with family or friends, rather than connecting via media. 
  8. The child believes that no place is safe, the trauma will recur or have other negative trauma-related thoughts. Help the child to create a safe space by reiterating that traumatic events are rare and return to a normal, predictable routine as soon as possible. 
  9. The child may experience survivor’s guilt or feel responsible for the event’s outcome.  Through honest, age-appropriate information, explain to the child that people did the best they could at the time.
  10. The child is constantly searching the news and internet for information about the event in an attempt to find answers. To maintain balance and perspective, limit the use of media use. And offer to help find answers to difficult questions.

If you notice any behaviors impacting a student, who experienced a traumatic experience, please refer the child to professional mental health professionals. Mental Health Partners is available to help. Our phone number is (303) 443-8500.