6 Trauma-Informed Strategies for Helping Students Succeed Amid COVID-19
COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound and wide-reaching effect on
students, from the quality and nature of the instruction they have
received to their social and emotional well-being. Whether students are attending school in person or continuing with
remote learning, K-12 leaders need to plan for how they will address
not only students’ academic needs but their social-emotional needs
children have been seeing or hearing frightening information about
the pandemic on TV or online. Some may have family members or other
people they know who have gotten sick or even passed away as a result
of the coronavirus. These experiences, and even just the anxiety that
comes from not knowing what the future will bring, may result in
feelings of grief or trauma.
who are experiencing these strong emotional responses may have
difficulty focusing on their schoolwork or completing lessons. They
may feel hopeless or depressed. They might need opportunities to
regain a sense of confidence and personal safety, or they might need
help with self-regulation. Trauma-informed care and other
trauma-sensitive teaching strategies might help.
National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) has issued
guidance on how
K-12 educators and administrators can implement trauma-informed
approaches to help students cope during the pandemic. Based on this
guidance, as well as recommendations
from the American Occupational Therapy Association
(AOTA), here are six key strategies that schools might consider.
activities and routines as predictable as possible helps students
feel more secure in their environment. It gives them something they
can count on, reducing the sense of helplessness they might feel at
the random nature of events.
instance, educators might have students who are working remotely log
in at 9 a.m. for a morning meeting each day. They might give
assignments in the same predictable manner. When providing
instructions, it’s important to communicate these clearly and break
them down into smaller chunks when necessary, so that students don’t
course, even the best-laid plans may go awry. If you have to break
from an established routine, take the time to explain these changes
and why they’re necessary. Explain that there may be future changes
to routines as well, and that you’ll communicate these ahead of
time if you can. Child
that doing this “will reduce stress and increase (students’)
confidence that important adults in their lives are capable of taking
care of them.”
students opportunities for control.
students to make choices — in where to sit, how they’ll complete
a task, or what method they’ll use to demonstrate their
understanding (write a poem, make a video, create a picture book) —
is not only a sound instructional practice that follows Universal
Design for Learning (UDL) principles for meeting the needs of all
learners. It also gives students opportunities to regain control in
their lives, which is another way to reduce the sense of helplessness
they might be feeling. It enables them to feel like a valued and
welcome member of a learning community.
on building relationships.
it’s important to make sure students have structure and to continue
holding them to high standards, “students will fare best if they
know their teachers care about their well-being just as much as their
behavior and assignment compliance,” child psychologists observe.
flexible and empathetic when it comes to holding students
appreciation for students’ efforts to complete assignments,”
NCTSN advises. “Remember that students may be dealing with many
different home life situations while trying to maintain their
academics. Students may feel embarrassed to share that their personal
situation impacts their ability to complete assignments. They may
also be feeling vulnerable sharing their home with their classmates
can show students they care by connecting on a personal level before
asking about assignments. For example, “students and educators can
share one tough moment and one hopeful moment of the day, or
educators and students can share one new lesson they learned about
themselves during the day,” psychologists suggest. “Participating
in these (rituals) can help educators build and maintain connection”
even when students are learning from home.
speaking of connection, fostering a sense of connectedness between
students, their teacher, and their peers is a critical strategy for
helping students cope with trauma. If students are learning remotely,
schedule time for live web conferencing sessions that allow students
to see, hear, and interact with each other and their teacher.
Incorporate fun activities into online or in-person lessons. Have
students work on activities together in groups using online
collaboration tools — and highlight each student’s contributions
to group activities.
a sense of security and hope.
COVID-19 pandemic is challenging students’ sense of security,
raising concerns about food and job security and whether children and
their families will remain safe from physical harm. However, there
are steps that educators can take to mitigate these concerns.
instance, educators can suggest that families and caregivers avoid
watching the news in front of young children and maintain as much of
a regular family routine as possible. In addition, educators can
encourage students to connect with them or another trusted adult to
talk about their feelings. Give students a safe space for reaching
out if there’s anything they need help with or are worried about.
may also be struggling to maintain hope, or the belief that
everything will turn out okay. To foster a sense of hope among
students, educators can share inspirational stories that have emerged
from the current pandemic and other crises; teach about other
troubling times in history and how communities rebounded; have
students ask someone in their family or community how he or she
maintains hope during periods of crisis; and share positive
affirmations of students’ strengths and the things they’re
grateful for that day.
intrinsic self-regulation skills.
children learn to understand and manage their own emotions, they’re
able to respond more effectively to complex or intense emotions such
as anger, anxiety, grief, or loss. Equipping students with practical
self-regulation strategies can help them deal with these feelings and
maintain control without becoming overwhelmed.
instance, mindfulness exercises such as meditation, visualization, or
deep breathing can help students calm and re-center themselves, so
they’re more prepared to learn. Spending
time in a sensory room
may also help students control their emotions.
calming sensory room offers a quiet space to regroup, which might
help students manage their responses to stress or anxiety. [link
to SEL article #1?]
space, or “wiggle room,” on the other hand, provides
opportunities for gross motor movement. [link
to SEL article #2?]
It’s an active space where students are encouraged to move, play,
and explore using a variety of sensory activities, including
opportunities for vestibular input (movement), tactile input (touch),
and proprioceptive input (deep touch pressure and heavy work).
all students need to move throughout the school day, those with
certain sensory processing challenges or difficulty self-regulating
need to move more frequently
— and research
supports the idea that frequent movement might actually help these
children focus and manage their emotions more effectively, leading to
can find ideas for designing and equipping both types of sensory
for students who may need professional help.
if educators employ all of these strategies, there may be some
students who need additional help in coping with their emotions
during the pandemic, such as professional counseling or mental health
services. These might include children who have a documented history
of trauma, anxiety, or depression; those whose families have lost
their jobs or income; and those who’ve lost a loved one to COVID-19
or who have family members who are particularly vulnerable to the
should pay close attention to their students’ emotional well-being
and should coordinate with school mental health experts or
community-based organizations specializing in trauma if they suspect
that students might need further assistance.
any changes in students’ behavior,” NCTSN recommends. “For
example, is a student acting more tired or listless than normal, or
having more difficulty concentrating? Is a child who is usually
relatively focused now unable to stay with one train of thought? Does
a normally social child seem more withdrawn? These may be normal
reactions to the change in environment and the current circumstances,
or they may warrant further assessment by a mental health
COVID-19 pandemic is emotionally challenging for all of us, and
students are especially at risk. Incorporating trauma-informed
strategies like these may help students learn to cope with their
emotions more effectively — while also connecting those who need
additional support with the professional services they require.