Managing Trauma in the Classroom

Trauma in children display itself in many different ways, and the effects of trauma can have a huge impact on the classroom environment.  Teachers do not always have the training to manage behaviors that are a result of trauma, and counseling/supportive services are not always readily available.  In order to manage trauma in the classroom, you have to first know what leads to trauma and how it can affect children:

Here are some examples of events that can lead to childhood trauma:

  • An unstable or unsafe environment
  • Separation from parent (foster care, death, divorce, jail, etc.)
  • Serious illness or death (self, friend, or someone in family)
  • Intrusive medical procedures (surgeries, chronic disease, ongoing treatments)
  • Sexual, physical, or verbal abuse
  • Domestic violence
  • Exposure to gang violence
  • Exposure to drug and/or alcohol abuse
  • Neglect (physical or emotional)
  • Extreme poverty
  • Bullying

Here are some emotional and physical signs that a child has experienced trauma:

  • Extreme shyness, quietness, or non-engaged with peers
  • Extreme hyperactivity, disruptive behavior
  • Physical symptoms of shock—stoic appearance, disconnected
  • Flat affect – “no sparkle in the eyes”
  • Depressed mood
  • Expression of anger, shame, and/or self-blame
  • Expression of feelings of sadness or hopelessness
  • Signs of confusion, difficulty concentrating
  • Expressions of anxiety, fear, shock
  • Feeling disconnected, numb, or withdrawn
  • Sleeplessness, poor sleeping habits, ongoing fatigue
  • Overly sensitive to noise, crowds, or gentle touch; easily startled
  • Describes ongoing aches, pains, or displays physical signs of concern
  • Difficulty concentrating in school
  • Difficulty making friends or keeping friends

So, what can teachers do to help children who have experienced trauma?  Here are some ideas:

  • Understand that students are not displaying the difficult behavior because of who they are, but because of their experiences.  By separating the behavior from the child, situations are not so emotionally charged.
  • Stick to a daily schedule so that students can know what to expect for the day.  If a change in schedule is necessary, communicate that clearly to the students and help prepare them to transition to the new schedule.
  • Allow students to take breaks, or create a calm down corner in your classroom so that students can calm themselves down during stressful times.
  • Give students choices.  All the options can be something you want them to do, but allowing them to choose allows them to have control that they might not have in other aspects of their lives.
  • Reward and acknowledge the things the student is doing well.  Often times, students are told everything they are doing wrong, and it is good for them to know they are doing things right as well.
  • Ask the child what they need.  Usually, they will know, and if they don’t know, it will allow them to become grounded and self-reflect.
  • Reach out to the counselors and service providers on campus, and continue collaborating with them about what you see in the classroom.  They might be able to provide more specific support that will help the child, and the more information they have, the better support they can provide.


For more ideas, please visit:

For more in-depth information on childhood trauma, and how it looks with different age groups, visit:

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