Invisible Wounds: The Trauma Crisis In Our Schools

The 10 year old has suddenly decided she no longer wants to play soccer, though she’s loved it for years.

The 3 year old boy has started having tantrums that seem to go on forever.

A 14 year old has been spending a little more time in his room, playing video games more than before, but nothing that caused his mom to be alarmed.

Changes in kids are normal, there’s nothing to worry about. Or is there?

Upon further review, she’s also been skipping meals, he’s having erratic sleep patterns and and that 3 year old, he’s had a stomach ache on and off for weeks.

Many times we write off the tell tale signs that kids are struggling as normal kid behavior or the need for more discipline.

But truthfully, many times we are missing all the classic signs of a traumatic stress response.

In our schools right now, 1 in 5 children have a diagnosible mental illness. Many of these children never get the help they need. They present occasionally, like the kids above, only slightly impaired on the surface with vague “symptoms”. Other times, their behavior is so erratic and uncontrollable, teachers can’t get through the lessons they’ve prepared. While there may be more kids in some areas than others, rest assured, they are present in every classroom, in every school, in every community, and they need our help. Traumatic stress responses make up a large percentage of the mental health diagnoses we see and the number is on the rise.

When is comes to being a teacher or youth care worker, it’s not enough to simply prepare for students academically. The idea that the problem of trauma is not impacting your students is a dangerous. The hidden wounds these kids have prevent them from reaching their true potential, having good relationships and the impact can be long lasting. Creating lesson plans, adding technology or training on pedagogy is great, but youth care workers needs to be trained to support all children. Today’s kids, many of whom are experiencing traumas daily that we as adults couldn’t manage, need the adults who care for them to be better prepared. They need us to help them understand what’s going on in them and for that to happen, we need to understand it ourselves.

At the basic level, trauma is a very difficult or unpleasant experience that causes someone to have mental, physical and/or emotional problem for an extended period of time. But the effects of trauma are much deeper than a few words in Websters dictionary. The Greek origin of the word trauma means wound. And Wounded is exactly how I would describe many of the kids that I see. Kids who have experienced any trauma, especially complex trauma, meaning the type that happens repeatedly, literally have changes to the neural pathways in their brains. They exhibit a myriad of symptoms which impact their ability to learn and can manifest in behaviors that disrupt those around them.

All that means that educators, youth care workers and even school support professionals need to be trained and everyone needs to have a plan for how to help kids. The 3 steps that I believe are most critical include the following:

· Staff must be aware of the prevalence of trauma and recognizing the impact it has,

· They need to consider trauma in all systems, routines and practices in their work with children, and

· They must ready to respond appropriately to children who are in need.

While only trained therapists can provide the interventions that help to heal those wounds, It’s important to note that you don’t need to be a therapist to have a positive impact on kids. You are the hope many kids need. Supportive caring adults who understand them and are ready to respond individually and comprehensively. Advocating for them and providing referrals to the resources that can also contribute to healing only compound the benefits that you provide. They need you and you can do it.

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