Expert Advice on Student Trauma To Help You Help Students

COVID-19 has added stress for everyone, but affects students with trauma even more. Learn how you can support your students during these unprecedented times.

By Hana Beach

The outbreak of COVID-19 and the subsequent school closures have brought unprecedented changes to education in America. For many students, this pandemic and the escalation of this crisis is the first time their lives have been completely uprooted by external events. Considering the drastic and immediate changes to school life—and life in general—it is vital for school leaders, educators, and students to provide stability and guidance to each other. 

We know it’s been difficult to support students and colleagues, inside and outside the classroom, while practicing social distancing. But, it’s essential to maintain and build positive relationships among students and between students and adults, even remotely. That’s why we blocked off the month of April for a month-long focus on the XQ School Design Principlecaring and trusting relationships. 

To start, we’ve re-upped a list of tips from XQ school staff on how teachers can create supportive environments for vulnerable students. This advice from educators about helping students who have experienced trauma can help you help students with what they’re managing today. 



Trauma is a deeply distressing or disturbing experience, as defined by the survivor, that is beyond the survivor’s capacity to cope. Emotional responses to trauma can include shock, denial, unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships, and physical symptoms.


There is a direct correlation between students’ emotional skills, which begin to form in early childhood, and student success. A secure attachment can lead to self-confidence, self-regulation, and an ability to navigate other relationships. An insecure attachment can lead to an anticipation of negative interactions with teachers, peers, and school staff, which can create a self-fulfilling prophecy.


Trauma memories can be triggered by events or scenarios that we as adults know are not threatening but can be perceived as threatening to students. Behavior is a way of communication. It’s like an iceberg – we only see the surface behavior, not the underlying cause or trigger.


There are a number of classroom strategies that can assist with building a trauma-informed environment. Some strategies include: learning as much about the student as possible; modeling calmness; providing opportunities for increased self-worth; avoiding power struggles; giving specific praise; setting clear limits on expectations and behavior; using a buddy/support system; providing safe spaces; offering choices when possible; anticipating difficult times and planning for them; using post-it notes for silent intervention; modeling tone; and avoiding sarcasm.

Tips from Anastasia Resner, case manager, and social worker, and De’Amonta Casey, school psychologist, both at Da Vinci RISE:


A trauma-informed environment begins with a shift in mindset. Behavior is like an iceberg. Use the 10/90 rule when thinking about student behaviors: 10 percent is what you can see, while 90 percent is what’s going on beneath the surface.


Building a trauma-informed environment involves a few approaches. Connect: focus on relationships. Protect: promote safety and trustworthiness. Respect: engage in choice and collaboration. Redirect: encourage skill-building and competence.


Consistency and choice are key to successful classroom strategies. Create a sense of consistency and have clear expectations and predictable consequences. It’s crucial to show consistent and controlled reactions and give students choice rather than ultimatums. By normalizing mistakes and framing them as learning opportunities, you empower students to grow.

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