Plus Tips for Preparing New Teachers and Staff for Working with Your Child

Preparing your child with trauma for a new school year can be a difficult, though not impossible, task. Trauma can, unfortunately, affect the way your child acts in the classroom. So it’s important to prepare your child for the changes ahead that could trigger unwanted reactions, as well as prepare your child’s teacher. 

How Trauma Affects Kids in School

Before we talk about what you can do to prepare your child, it’s important to understand all the ways your child may be affected in school. The more issues you know about, the better you can prepare your child. 

Here’s a list of some possible effects or issues your child may experience:

  • Trouble forming a bond with teachers or administrators: this is due to your child feeling unable to trust adults in their life until they are made to feel safe and loved. 
  • Internalized negative thinking: when teachers and administrators refer to your child as “bad” or having “bad behavior,” this can lead to your child internalizing this thinking about themselves, resulting in low self-confidence. 
  • Poor self-regulation: your child will have trouble managing strong emotions in the classroom and on the playground without proper coaching from adults. When your child is dysregulated, this can manifest in several ways. Some examples include aggressiveness, withdrawal/self-isolation, controlling behavior, panic attacks, or defiance.
  • Displaying hypervigilance: this is when your child is overly alert to danger, making them seem jumpy or frightened. This could lead to extreme self-reliance or hyper-independence to avoid situations or could result in your child running out of the classroom or skipping class. 
  • Having poor concentration and focus: this is when a child seems to zone out or to not be paying attention.
  • Displaying exhaustion or sleepiness: this can be due to your child not sleeping well at night, perhaps from recurring nightmares or anxiety. 
  • Participating in risky behaviors: your child may begin to participate in risky behavior, such as substance abuse, as a cry for attention or help. 
  • Being bullied or bullying: sometimes children with trauma can “act out” by bullying others; other children with trauma can be the ones bullied. 

It’s important to remember that not all children with trauma are the same. Your child’s experiences are unique, and so will the way they deal with that trauma. So, your child may or may not display all of the above behaviors when their trauma reaction is triggered at school. 

How to Prepare Your Child with Trauma for a New School Year

Now, let’s look at some strategies to prepare your child with trauma for the new school year. 

  • Talk to your child about the upcoming school year, the changes they may experience, and what they can expect. 
  • Talk about the school’s bullying policy and how to activate it; self-advocacy and knowledge can help restore feelings of control and confidence. 
  • Help your child learn to identify and express their emotions through words.  
  • Practice self-regulation and coping techniques. Practicing these during moments of calm makes them easier to use later when they are really needed.
  • For children with physical scars from their trauma, practice “Rehearse Your Response.” Someone will inevitably ask, “What happened?” and some may not ask it so nicely. To help reduce your child’s anxiety surrounding sharing their story, help them develop a rehearsed response they can practice beforehand. Remember that your child should feel in control of the story they share with others. 
  • Help your child identify adults or peers at school who can provide support if they are feeling overwhelmed or unsafe. 

It’s also important to ensure that teachers and administrators are on the same page. Remember, you are your child’s best and biggest advocate at school!

  • Educate teachers and administrators on childhood trauma and how to institute a trauma-informed classroom; providing resources is a great way to do this.
  • Help prepare the teachers and administrators by providing a list of things that may trigger your child and some of their usual behaviors that result from the trigger. 
  • Stress the importance of using regulation activities during periods of transition that involve the whole class, and how every child can benefit from this. 
  • Stress that your child still needs structure and consistency, along with creating a space that feels safe, not that your child needs the rules bent for them. 
  • Ask your child’s teacher if you can have your child meet them before the start of the new school year if that doesn’t already happen. This will give your child an opportunity to meet their new teacher in a situation that feels more safe and comfortable.
  • Set up additional support for your child through things such as counseling or support groups, which can provide a healthy outlet and way for them to work through their trauma. 
  • Develop an emergency plan with school staff, teachers, and your child. This could be going to a specific person or room when they need to escape from a situation that is causing anxiety. 

Final Thoughts

Preparing your child, their teachers, and school staff for a new school year is important. Knowledge is power and that knowledge can help your child feel more in control of their situation, but it can also help teachers and administrators provide the help and support that your child needs during the school day. Remember, you are your child’s biggest advocate, so keep lines of communication open with teachers and school staff so you can take care of any small issues before they become big issues.