Teaching Traumatized Children
Over the last several years I've encountered more and more traumatized children in the classroom. I likely taught many in my early career as well, although at that time I failed to recognize the signs of trauma or to understand the impact it could have on a child's ability to learn. Trauma may be caused by any number of experiences including, but not limited to: domestic violence, moves from family to family, inconsistent or inadequate care, neglect, or abuse.
Child trauma expert, Dr. Bruce Perry, talks about how difficult it is for children to learn when the upper, thinking portion of the brain, or cortex, is hijacked by the lower, primitive brain. A child with a trauma background can almost instantaneously move into fight/flight/freeze mode, concentrating brain power on survival rather than on new learning.
In the classroom setting, the trauma response can be very confusing. A child with strong math skills may suddenly appear to struggle as anxiety or stress causes him to go from cortical thinking to survival mode. The trigger might be obvious, such as a pending exam, or perplexing, as when a sound, sight, touch or smell connects the child to an original trauma. Perry describes how traumatized boys are more likely to exhibit acting-out behaviors, resulting in outside intervention. In contrast, girls who've experienced trauma are more likely to disassociate, become quiet and turning pain inward where it is less obvious and therefore less likely to result in professional help.
We invite you to learn more about teaching traumatized children by accessing Perry's articles for teachers or by accessing free on-line courses at Child Trauma Academy. Much hope exists for traumatized children, with one of the greatest being the ability of caring adults to identify and address their special needs, including those specific to the classroom.
"Hope is like a path in the countryside; originally there was no path. Yet, as people walk all the time in the same spot, a way appears." --Chinese poet Lu Xan