Academic journal article Childhood Education

Recognizing Trauma in the Classroom: A Practical Guide for Educators

Academic journal article Childhood Education

Recognizing Trauma in the Classroom: A Practical Guide for Educators

Article excerpt

Certain at-risk behavior patterns are often associated with traumatic childhood experiences. With the role of schools evolving to shape children's developmental needs in today's world, educators across the globe bear an increasingly greater responsibility to identify and address these symptoms associated with childhood trauma. Given the differences in school infrastructure in various nations of the world, however, the services available to children through schools vary drastically. Nonetheless, the educators' position in respect to schooling and in shaping a society's future through education emphasizes their role as advocates for children experiencing trauma. In the article "Recognizing Trauma in the Classroom: A Practical Guide for Educators," Hope Bell, Dodie Limberg, and Edward "Mike" Robinson III address childhood trauma in the context of schools in the United States. Despite cross-national differences in educational settings and frameworks, teachers around the world may wish to consider these strategies for addressing symptoms of trauma evident in certain student behavior patterns. Given the differences across global regions, it is important to use context-based analysis of childhood trauma in instituting proper preventive measures.


Educators (e.g., teachers, administrators, school counselors) are in an ideal position to observe behaviors and emotions that may result from childhood trauma; and may be the only adults present consistently enough in a child's life to distinguish trauma-related changes from the child's normal disposition (Cohen & Mannarino, 2011; Gelkopf & Berger, 2009; Openshaw, 2011). Without recognition by an adult, childhood trauma may go undiagnosed and untreated, causing many potential future problems in academia and beyond. Therefore, educators have an opportunity and a responsibility to be an advocate for children who have experienced trauma. All educators also have both an ethical and professional responsibility to promote a safe and culturally competent school climate to support the holistic development of all students (American School Counselor Association, 2010).

A trauma occurs when a child perceives themselves or others around them to be threatened by serious injury, death, or psychological harm. This in turn may cause severe stress, fear, and feelings of helplessness (Jaycox, 2006). Once traumatization has occurred, a child's natural ability to cope may be disrupted due to the overwhelming nature of the trauma (Terr, 1991). Childhood trauma may cause several realms of the child's school life to be affected, including interpersonal communication skills, peer relationships, and academic achievement (Jaycox, 2006). Children may be more comfortable receiving help from familiar faces and environments; therefore, educators are at the forefront of identifying and contributing to the treatment of childhood trauma, thus facilitating healthy personal, social, and academic development. The purpose of this manuscript is to: 1) provide a clear definition of childhood trauma through a school-based lens, 2) describe symptoms of trauma and their presentation within the school environment, and 3) provide effective strategies educators can apply in school to support children who have experienced trauma.


Traumas are generally divided into two categories: acute trauma and chronic trauma. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN, 2006a) defines acute traumas as "events (that) occur at a particular time and place and are usually short-lived" (para. 1). Terr (1991) identifies acute trauma as a "Type I" trauma and describes it as a single, unanticipated event. This includes such situations as natural disasters, car crashes, loss of a loved one, assault, and terrorist attacks. Characteristics of a Type I trauma include detailed memories of the event, the child looking for reasons or causes of the event, and visual hallucinations related to the trauma (Terr, 1991). …

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