Behavior Management: How to Support Children With Trauma

Trauma is an underrated concern. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network estimates that two-thirds of children experience a traumatic event before they turn 16.

You can’t tell whether a child has experienced a traumatic event by looking at them. You may never know if a child is dealing with trauma. You may only find out after stimuli provoke them.

Whatever your role is in an academic environment, you need to enforce trauma-informed behavior management. Here is a quick guide on what that entails.

The Definition of Trauma

Trauma is a dynamic phenomenon. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) defines trauma as something that harms a person’s body, emotions, and/or psychological condition. Trauma can result from one event, a series of events, or a set of circumstances.

The circumstances that cause trauma can involve harm, a threat of harm, and/or severe neglect. The individual’s experience with their circumstances determines if the circumstances become traumatic. Someone may regard an event as traumatic that other individuals may not regard as traumatic.

A power differential sets up the circumstances. One person feels humiliated, powerless, and ashamed. They may feel like they are responsible for their event, which can lead to them remaining silent about it.

The effects of traumatic circumstances are long-lasting. Adverse effects may not appear until some time has passed. A person may not recognize the connections between the events they have experienced and their effects.

The Signs of Trauma

Many people are familiar with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Common symptoms of PTSD include flashbacks to traumatic events and having angry outbursts. PTSD manifests after a traumatic event, but a traumatic event can affect an individual without manifesting through PTSD.

In the classroom, a child can exhibit many different signs of trauma. Age is a determinant of the different signs that a child can display.

Infants may struggle with eating and sleeping. They may be clingy, struggling to separate from their caregivers. They may not play with their classmates, or they may engage in the same kinds of play over and over again.

Preschool children may be restless, helpless, and/or irritable. Their behavior may be aggressive, even sexually so. They may show signs of depression, withdrawing from their classroom, and struggling to relate to their peers.

Elementary school children may show anxiety and phobias. They may struggle with guilt and shame, apologizing for things that aren’t their fault. They may struggle to nap, and they may have nightmares while napping.

Middle and high school children may develop eating disorders. They may self-harm, attempt suicide, or show signs of depression. They may develop alcohol and drug dependencies.

A child who displays any of these signs may not have suffered from trauma. The signs of trauma overlap with learning disabilities, ADHD, and autism. An older child may develop alcohol abuse disorder without the trigger of trauma.

Classroom and Behavior Management

The American Psychological Association (APA) defines classroom management as the process through which schools maintain the appropriate behavior of their students. Schools teach the classroom expectations and routines to students.

Schools reward the positive behavior that students display. The teacher awards the student with attention, the school offers prizes, and the student receives a good report card. The curriculum cultivates the student’s engagement, creating a meaningful challenge for the student.

The APA regards social and emotional learning as a critical component of classroom management. For students to behave in the classroom, they need to know how to interact with each other. Their teachers must provide them with opportunities to practice skills and manage their emotions.

This is where behavior management and trauma care come in. Behavior management instructs teachers on how to recognize stressors and trauma. They learn to gather evidence, identify behavior functions, and tailor strategies to children.

Trauma care is a system of strategies that address trauma in the classroom. Teachers, faculty members, and staffers are all involved.

Trauma care is not opposed to classroom and behavior management. You can integrate trauma-informed care into your management tools.

What You Can Do in Behavior Management

You can do many things to help your students. The best thing you can do is offer a positive space for learning. Provide positive messages in the classroom, encouraging students to calm down and stay focused.

Train students to resolve their stress. Practice deep-breathing techniques and teach students about their stress responses. Let them find techniques to control their heart and breathing rates.

Respond positively to your students’ behavior. Don’t expect your students to be perfect. Listen to your students and remain calm when they talk to you.

Encourage your students to learn about each other’s strengths. When you are reading stories to your students, ask them to label the strengths of the protagonists.

You can ask students directly what they need in the classroom. You can give students choices, allowing them to practice control.

Practice resilience skills with your students. Coach your students on how to refute the negative thoughts that come into their heads. Teach them to think optimistically and to devise constructive approaches to problems.

If a child has recently gone through a traumatic event, give them time to process it. Allow the child opportunities to express their grief and frustration.

Provide a cool-down area where students can decompress when they are frustrated. Dim the lights in your room to encourage calmness.

Keep learning about behavior management and trauma in the classroom. Watch webinars and talk to your associates about your skills.

How You Can Support Kids With Trauma

Trauma is difficult to live and learn with. But teachers can help students through behavior management and trauma-informed teaching methods.

Trauma can occur from one event, multiple events, or a set of circumstances. The signs of trauma are multi-faceted, and many of them overlap with other conditions. Integrate trauma-informed behavior management into your classroom management.

Empower your students with positive responses and strength sensitivity. Give your students spaces to express themselves. Provide them with cool-down areas to encourage them to work through events.

Get the resources you need. Insights to Behavior provides web-based tools to track and manage student behavior. Contact us today.

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