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.
Children in our classroom often face issues of substance abuse in the home, parental separation and/or divorce, mental illness in the home, domestic violence, suicidal household members, death of a parent or other loved one, parental incarceration, abuse, and neglect. These experiences, as well as numerous others, often exceed a child’s ability to cope, causing stress and releasing toxic levels of fight, flight, or freeze hormones into the brain. The end result is a traumatic experience that impacts their ability to function in a variety of settings.
In their book Fostering Resilient Learners: Strategies for Creating a Trauma-Sensitive Classroom, authors Kristin Souers and Pete Hall identify several ways trauma manifests itself in students in our classrooms (p.29):
- Flight: May manifest as withdrawing, fleeing, skipping class, seeming to sleep, avoiding others, hiding or wandering, and becoming disengaged.
- Fight: May manifest as acting out, behaving aggressively, acting silly, exhibiting defiance, being hyperactive, arguing, and screaming/yelling.
- Freeze: May manifest as exhibiting numbness, refusing to answer, refusing to get needs met, giving a blank look, and feeling unable to move or act.
Students who are manifesting the effect of trauma need a safe and predictable classroom, as well as skills to manage their feelings. Take your increased awareness of students dealing with trauma into your planning for next week. Be aware of their needs and your response to them. Become that safe and trustworthy adult that they need in their lives.