Dealing with Trauma in Children


I want to speak here about trauma using first hand experience and refer to trauma informed teaching as an evidenced based approach to clearing a path through the fallout. But my main goal is to give some insight to parents and teachers into managing life for your young one following a traumatic event.  

I am not an expert on trauma informed care in the sense that I have not studied it or formally employed it.  However, I have been through some challenging events with my students in the past and feel, along with my basic compassionate nature and personal approach to coping with trauma, well equipped to address this area.  And within my dealings it turns out that I was incorporating TIC. 

The Center for Evidence Based practice defines Trauma Informed Care as:

…a strengths-based service delivery approach “that is grounded in an understanding of and responsiveness to the impact of trauma; that emphasizes physical, psychological, and emotional safety for both providers and survivors; that creates opportunities for survivors to rebuild a sense of control and empowerment.” 

They utilize six core principles:

  • Safety
  • Trustworthiness and Transparency
  •  Peer Support
  • Collaboration and Mutuality
  • Empowerment, Voice and Choice
  • Cultural, Historical, and Gender Issues

For more information on these and beginning a trauma informed organization or developing TIC in your school or institution,  visit their page which I will upload to the resource page of my website. 

It’s human nature to react differently to the same stimuli.  And where some people might possess any range of mild to moderate reactions to something they have experienced or witnessed personally, others can be traumatized and sent spiraling.  There is no one way we can expect people to react to loss, neglect, abuse, etc.  As a result I don’t believe there is one approach to be taken for each individual.  However, there are things that cross all experiences when it comes to how others react to a person who has experienced trauma.  They are compassion, sympathy, understanding (or being open to understanding) and allowing one to recover at their own pace along their journey; step by step, day by day, ticking their own clock. 

I have experienced personal trauma and the one distinction I’ve observed with people around me is that there are those who can stay the long course and those who need to bail early on; (there are smatterings of those that fall somewhere along that spectrum as well).  

Some who could handle my deep seeded worries and repeated statements or compulsions (not complaints but rather concerns or uncertainties) and some who couldn’t take the heat and felt enough was enough. 

Perhaps those people were too overwhelmed by the unexpectedness of my traumatic fallout and didn’t have the tools or patience to cope or they were triggered themselves and had to walk away, metaphorically throwing up their hands and saying, “ When are you going to get over this?” or “ Can’t you just move on?” or something as uncomfortable to hear as that. 

Being traumatized leaves you feeling desperate at times.  Alone.  Lost.  And without either the personal strength and drive to push through the pain on your own or without having a support system to help get you there, it can be a very scary place.  It WILL impact everything in your life; everything you’ve known to be casually occurring; everyday normalcy as you’ve known it.  Your focus narrows and you can become one tracked in your thinking and manner of handling your movements throughout your day.  That was me as an adult.  So imagine what it can be like for a child?  Imagine their inability to focus on tasks in the academic arena and at home.  They are stunted by their trauma and progress can become slow or stagnant.  

Allow me to share a few trauma informed experiences that I faced as a teacher.  And remember, yes there are strategies you can learn and this is why I am doing this podcast, because most of us are unprepared.  And when something terrible happens we can feel lost and ill-equipped. Yet as parents and guardians, we have to step up and be that rock for our kids.  So along with some proven strategies to guide you, Tuning into your compassion, empathy and patience are the three greatest, additional,  tools you’ll need.  

Back in the late 90s I had a class filled with children across a spectrum of learning, emotional and physical disabilities and one heavenly natured little one with a serious health diagnosis.  It was a challenging yet incredibly rewarding year ranging in degrees of upheaval at times of violent outbursts to miraculous growth and development cognitively and pragmatically.  This was a fragile class with tremendous ebbs and flows; heartbreaking moments of disappointment, glorious revelations of overcoming individual barriers and one tragically devastating moment in time that would change all of our lives moving forward.

My little one who had been so ill for much of her life and who had made such strides this year was suddenly absent for a week prior to a spring holiday.  This happens and of course the concern was a bit higher in her regard, but as is typical of human nature, I believe, until you hear differently, you carry on as normal.  

Upon my arrival on the first day back to school I was summoned into the office of my supervisor who was on the phone and appearing quite sullen.  He hung up and informed me that my dear little one had passed away.

Now as an aside, our school had been hit with a cluster of tragic deaths among staff members and one beautiful 5 year old in the recent months; and this additionally, included my supervisor’s young son (I can’t recall if this was before or after his death).   So we all felt the fatigue of one loss upon another.  But this stunning news left me numb.  

I had to inform my staff of assistants and then the children who were very young and developmentally not quite to the level of me knowing how the news might impact them.  But before the students arrived for the day and shortly after informing my staff I received word that there had been a mistake in communication from the hospital and that, in fact, my little one was still alive on life support!  This sent my head spinning! What do you mean?  Shock and sadness turned to hope and now what?

I ended up visiting the hospital, seeing her and being asked to join the family in speaking with the doctor to discuss life support decisions.  It was heavy and I was both uncertain of my place and honored to be included.  The decision, after hearing the diagnosis,  was made by the family to take her off of life support.  She died that evening at 6:30.  I received the news as I sat on my side porch at home staring up at a rainbow.  I know it sounds made up but it’s as true as the sound of my voice.  

So when my little one was gone I felt a strong responsibility to acknowledge what my students might be feeling and find a way to get them to express it.  They were so young, 9, 10, 11 years old, just like I was, but they may not have had the capacity to understand or know how to ask questions or behave or mourn.  

As a school we had been in such an extended period of mourning that some people simply checked out.  That’s when I was truly struck by the fact that everyone is different and we can’t expect everyone to react and mourn the same.  Some people become too traumatized or exhausted and the losses stop registering.  And I realize that I can’t judge that for another.  And that’s not easy to do. 

I sought help from the school’s social worker and psychologist who were very supportive and gave me the resources I would need to read to the children on the subject of death and give them creative opportunities to explore their loss.  On top of this I had assistants who worked closely with the kids and helping and supporting them also became part of my job in order that the classroom continue to function despite the malfunctioning of all of our hearts.  

It takes strength and love to be there for children facing trauma.  Your guidance is seminal to their recovery.  If you are following your heart as you employ this guidance, innate and scientific, you will affect positive change.  

For the complete story on this tune into my latest podcast by the same title.

Peace and Keep Rising!

Published by riseup20

I am a retired teacher with a creative bent and I am excited to bring attention and assistance to parents and caregivers of children with special needs. Mark

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