Supporting Students Experiencing Trauma

student alone

Supporting Students Experiencing Trauma

Students have a stressful enough time as it is. Challenging academics, maintaining grades, after school activities, and navigating social development can be stressful. When a student experiences trauma, it’s hard to function normally and learning becomes that much more difficult. On top of all of this, students are experiencing the stress of the pandemic and may even be mirroring the stress that they see in their parents and caregivers. Because we cannot always know which students have or are experiencing trauma, being a trauma informed educator is really  a shift in the way we approach all children.

Don’t Ignore their Emotional Needs

Right now we are seeing the clear reasons why we need to emphasize emotional learning before academics. Productivity and results drive our often antiquated educational system, which can leave room for neglecting emotional needs. Research suggests that at least one student per classroom is affected by trauma or what we call Adverse Childhood Experiences, with almost 40% having been exposed to a trauma at some point in their lives. This percentage is growing daily as children navigate the pandemic, often on their own. Supporting a student’s emotional needs can be as simple as allowing them more time on an assignment or offering a calming space in the classroom. School is sometimes the only place where a student truly feels safe, so don’t ignore their needs when you think something’s amiss.

Create a Trauma Informed Learning Environment

Trauma informed learning encourage a flexible environment that meets the needs of students who may have experienced trauma. This gives both the teacher and student not just a more accommodating learning plan, it encourages education in trauma itself. Supporting trauma is an ongoing process and needs to be as consistent as possible. Focus on creating a sense of safety, connection, building emotional regulation and instilling a sense of hope. The implementation of Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) can be a foundation way to build a safe and predictable environment for children. Invest in a social emotional learning (SEL) framework, that works to build the needed self-awareness and self-management skills to navigate the impacts of trauma. There are several high quality, researched based SEL options out there, but one that stands out because the students can self-tailor it to address issues they may not be ready to share with an adult, is the Ripple Effects program. Lastly, make positive relationships building and connection an intentional part of every day. Research shows that relationships matter in both the social and academic outcomes of students.

Pay Attention to Behavioral Changes

Sometimes the behavioral changes after a student has experienced trauma can be subtle. It’s important to listen to the student, paying attention to cues that could indicate something being wrong. Changes in academic performance, organization, and mood shifts can all indicate that a child may be experiencing high stress or trauma. The behaviors that we find challenging are often a signal that a child needs support. These behaviors may be very overt in nature, or they may be the behaviors such as those we deem quiet, shy or withdrawn. Increasing your knowledge about trauma can help you to better support students, no matter what behavior they may exhibit. The National Mental Health Technology Transfer Center is a great free resource for webinars and information around supporting student mental health and trauma. Every child deserves our attention and support, especially during these trying times.


Read our other Sound Support Blogs for more information and ways to help students with their needs!





Lori Lynass Ed.D.

Owner & Executive Director of SOUND SUPPORTS. Dr. Lynass has 22 years of experience working to support student, families and schools. She has worked directly with over 1,000 schools, in over 100 districts and 3 state departments of education on their implementation of academic and behavioral systems of support. Read More >