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  • Writer's pictureHelen Haydock

Trauma in the Classroom

Last week we introduced the idea that trauma is a barrier to inclusion and discussed the difference between simple and complex trauma. Today we will start to think about what trauma looks like in our classrooms. For the purposes of the blog classrooms refers to both school settings and early childhood settings. (For those working in health or sport you will also find useful information in these posts)

Black and white image of a young boy screaming in the rain

When I have gone into schools and early childhood settings specifically tasked with discussing trauma with staff I often start by asking what they have seen in their settings that make them think children may have experienced trauma I find that usually staff describe children engaging in challenging behaviours, tantrums, power struggles, arguments, struggling to make friends and generally been disruptive. Staff will sometimes say things like “theyre just different to the other children”, “their behaviours are bigger, louder, more frequent and more extreme”. They will often quickly acknowledge that they feel overwhelmed trying to support these children.

Quite often staff will report trying to speak with families or reporting concerns to child protection but that nothing changes. “We have to try manage the child’s behaviour whilst also teaching the rest of the class”. In this situation it is also not unusual for schools to take disciplinary action, especially against older children, as an attempt to stop or manage disruptive behaviour and keep other students safe.

When I’ve worked with families, seeking support for children as they heal from trauma, they will often express concerns that their child is “struggling” both at school/early education settings and with peer relationships. Some report that the situation is so bad they know other parents don’t want children befriending their child. In some cases schools report other parents insisting children be removed or expelled.

Image of a girl looking sad

Less often staff will describe the children as “quiet”, “withdrawn” or “frozen”. These children tend to get noticed less, yet their behaviour is just as much a barrier to inclusion as the children engaging in what we typically see as “challenging behaviours”.

One of the key things is that staff, whether early education, primary, secondary or beyond, tend to describe these children as standing out in some way but they also tend to express concerns that they’re not sure if its trauma or “something else”. During these meetings or workshops when we dig further into the observed behaviours its not uncommon for staff to note that they see a lot of crossover in presentation between children who have experienced trauma and those who either have or may eventually receive diagnoses such as ASD or ADHD. The reality is that there is crossover in presentation and there is much debate amongst professionals about why this is. The good news is that when we focus on practical strategies to support children we find a whole of service approach is best and the strategies work for all children, not just those with experiences of trauma.

In our next blog we will explore some of the strategies that can help to support children who have experienced trauma.

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