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How Teachers Can Help their Students Cope with a Traumatic Event

Published on August 3, 2020

How Teachers Can Help their Students Cope with a Traumatic Event Children may respond to trauma, such as the recent earthquake, in many different ways. Children are very sensitive and struggle to make sense of these events.  They may find it hard to recover from frightening experiences. They will look to adults’ reactions as a […]

How Teachers Can Help their Students Cope with a Traumatic Event

Children may respond to trauma, such as the recent earthquake, in many different ways. Children are very sensitive and struggle to make sense of these events.  They may find it hard to recover from frightening experiences. They will look to adults’ reactions as a signal to how serious the situation is.  Teachers can provide this support. 

What are common reactions for any age children?

  • Sleep disturbances and nightmares
  • Feeling hypervigilant or always on guard
  • Worries about the safety of self, family, friends or pets
  • Increased sensitivity to sounds (sirens, loud noises, things falling or crashing)
  • Fears that another earthquake or aftershock will occur 
  • Decreased concentration and attention 
  • Withdrawal from friends, activities and social situations
  • Becoming irritated and disruptive 
  • Physical complaints (headaches, stomachaches, aches and pains)  
  • Strong reactions to reminders of the earthquake (destroyed buildings, news reports)
  • Grief and loss
  • Lack of interest in usual activities

Preschool Age Children (1-5) may additionally experience:

  • Regressing to younger behaviors such as thumb sucking, bedwetting, fear of the dark
  • New fears such as strangers, the dark, animals or “monsters”
  • Re-experiencing the earthquake through play
  • Crying or clinging more than usual
  • Moving around aimlessly or becoming immobile

Early Childhood Age (6-11) may additionally experience:

 

  • Withdrawing from friends and social activities
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Developing unfounded fears
  • Decline in school performance
  • Feeling they may be responsible
  • Feeling numb

 

Adolescents (12-17) may additionally experience:

  • Flashbacks (feeling like the disaster is being re-experienced)
  • Decline in school performance
  • High risk behavior like drinking, using drugs, or doing things that are harmful to oneself or others
  • Feelings of guilt for not preventing injury or death
  • Depression and/or suicidal thoughts

 

How Can You Help Your Students?

 

Identify vulnerable children. Risk factors such as; how directly a student was impacted, past exposure to trauma, mental health problems, family stress and prior loss can increase the probability of trauma.

 

Model a healthy response. Maintain a calm and emotionally appropriate response. Children take cues from your behavior.

 

Provide opportunities to express feelings.  Expressing feelings and asking questions help children make some sense of the disaster and develop effective coping skills. Do not argue with the way they feel.

 

Answer questions briefly and honestly. Explanations should be age-appropriate and not too detailed.  It is okay to admit if you do not have the answers to all their questions. 

 

Healing activities help.  Emotional expression using puppets, art, play, story time and music can be helpful. 

 

Watch their behavior. Sometimes the quietest child may be the most frightened. Children may daydream or have trouble concentrating on their schoolwork. Some may act out

 

Help children feel safe. Tell children what to do during an aftershock and explain what the school is doing to keep them safe.

 

Maintain rules and routines. Children are comforted by their regular routine and back-to-normal school activities help.

 

Calm worries about absent students’ safety. Friendships may be disrupted by the earthquake with school closures and travel. 

 

Involve students in helping activities. Children recover and cope better when they feel they are helping. Allow them to come up with ideas about how they can help those in need.

 

Be patient. Children may be needy and distracted. Reminders and extra attention help.

 

Stay hopeful.  An optimistic outlook helps children see the good things in the world around them. Telling stories of compassion and triumph help.

 

Teachers need to take care of themselves. You may have had a stressful experience yourself. Take breaks from helping others, find opportunities to talk to your fellow teachers, exercise and eat well.

 

If a student has trouble coping, help the parent seek professional support. The following is a list of helpful resources.

 

  • Educational resources for school disaster preparedness, response and recovery

http://www.ctrp.org/resources_educators.htm

 





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