Children who live in chronic states of stress and trauma often have difficulty coping. In many instances, they respond by creating chaos, because they are trying to control their environment. By creating a disruption, the students are moving their attention away from what is causing them stress and focusing their attention on something external.
In their book Fostering Resilient Learners: Strategies for Creating a Trauma-Sensitive Classroom, authors Kristin Souers and Pete Hall identify several measures that teachers can take in the classroom to help minimize the disruptions created by students acting out (p.63-64):
- Prepare students for the beginning of the class or activity. Develop and maintain a consistent, structured routine.
- Support learning for the students who create disruptions. If you have identified a student or two who create chaos, make their desks the first stop in your trip around the room and provide feedback. Circulate back to these students frequently.
- Provide training and support in peer tutoring and cooperative learning. Help students help themselves by creating a classroom network of support.
- Involve disruptive students in the operation of the classroom. Provide an assigned role every day to help these students feel involved.
Have a plan, avoid power struggles, and know your students. Build strong, positive relationships. In so doing, you can help reduce stress, and create a safe environment for yourself and your students.