By: Amy Torchia, Children’s Advocacy Coordinator, Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence
In an effort to respond better to children who experience trauma, schools and early childhood programs are beginning to embrace trauma responsive approaches to working with children. It requires out of the box thinking and strategies to help teach kids how to regulate their emotions and behaviors.
Living in homes where one parent abuses the other or being directly abused – sexually, physically, or emotionally – can be traumatic experiences for children. Children who experience chronic trauma are often hypervigilant and overwhelmed by their emotions. Some behave in classrooms in ways that are disruptive – raging, screaming, hitting. Our historical response is to remove and isolate these particular children with timeouts, trips to the principal’s office, or suspensions. With new understanding of how trauma impacts brain development and responding behavior, we now understand that…’children who have experienced trauma feel profoundly unsafe….when they are acting out, their primary need is often to feel a sense of connection’…not to be isolated.
This NYT article, Teaching Children to Calm Themselves, highlights the Head Start Trauma Smart program which provides trauma training for teachers, parents and school staff (even bus drivers and cafeteria staff). It teaches skills for both self care and effective caring ways to respond to children who have experienced trauma.
My favorite part of this article is where it describes tangible ways that classrooms can transform. It includes ideas like creating ‘calm down corners’ and engaging tools like Breathing Stars – fun breathing aids cut out of a manila folders