Helping Children and Adolescents Cope with Trauma

Many of the refugees that register for school in the US have often lived in a country with an unstable infrastructure for years due to extreme conditions like poverty, war and disasters.  To date, we have about 349 refugee students enrolled in Dearborn Public Schools.  They enter our school system with many basic needs.  Part of educating the whole child is ensuring that both their affective and academic needs are met.  Helping children and adolescents cope with trauma will strengthen their social and emotional skills.  Feeling safe at school translates into higher academic achievement, increased student well-being, and greater engagement

What is trauma?

“Trauma” is often thought of as physical injuries. Psychological trauma is an emotionally painful, shocking, stressful, and sometimes life-threatening experience. It may or may not involve physical injuries, and can result from witnessing distressing events.  Traumatic events threaten our sense of safety.

Reactions (responses) to trauma can be immediate or delayed. Reactions to trauma differ in severity and cover a wide range of behaviors and responses.  Frequently experienced responses among children after trauma are loss of trust and a fear of the event happening again.

What can school personnel do to help?

There are steps that adults can take that can help them cope.  These include creating safe conditions, remaining calm and friendly, and connecting with others.  Being sensitive to people under stress and respecting their decisions is important.

If a child brings up an act of violence that he/she experienced or their feelings about it, let them know:

  • You care about them.
  • The event was not their fault.
  • You will do your best to take care of them in school.
  • It’s okay for them to feel upset.

DO:

·         Allow children to cry

·         Allow sadness

·         Listen to children

·         Let children talk about feelings

·         Let them write/draw about feelings

·         Accept their feelings

·         Try to keep regular routines.

 

 

 

DON’T:

·         Expect children to be brave or tough

·         Force children to tell their stories

·         Probe for personal details

·         Make promises you cannot keep

·         Say what you think people should feel

·         Say how people should have acted

·         Argue about their feelings

·         Get upset if they begin acting out

·         Get angry if children show strong emotions

·         Ignore severe reactions

 

Source: National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)

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