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Teaching Strategies for Students Who Suffer

Janelle Cox

The classroom isn’t a just a place where students go to learn or to make friends, for some it’s a sanctuary or a place of refuge. According to data, every classroom has at least one student who has been affected by a traumatic event. The impacts of abuse, a death in the family, or even a lack of care at home can greatly impact a student’s behavior, as well as their education. So for some children, school is the only place in their life where they can feel safe. As teachers, we have the unique opportunity to use teaching strategies to help heal, repair and nurture these students. The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley, suggest to try the five teaching strategies below to help assist and support these students who may be or may have experienced trauma in their lives.

Teaching Strategies that Build a Healthy, Supportive Relationship

Oftentimes, children who have or who are experiencing some sort of trauma in the lives have a hard time trusting and forming positive relationships with others. The one thing that teachers can do to help these children, is to create a healthy and supportive relationship with the child. Get to know your students on a more personal level. An easy way to do this is to try the 3 x 10 teaching strategy. This is when you take three minutes a day for 10 consecutive days to just talk to the student and get to know them better. The goal is that by the end of the 10 days, you’ll have created a bond with the child. The more positive relationships that students have in the lives, the better it is for the suffering child.

Create a Warm, Cozy Learning Environment

The way that your classroom is arranged can also make an impact on how a student feels. For example, the more inviting and homey you make your classroom, the more likely the student will feel comfortable and at ease. Consider the way your desks and furniture are arranged in the classroom. Take a look at the lighting, and the way that you decorate. Is the lighting soft? Are there plants? Do you have a ready nook or a comfy chair to sit in? Are their pictures and photographs on the walls? Your goal is to create a positive physical space so that all students will feel safe.

Help Build Positive Emotions

Another effective teaching strategy to help support students who are suffering is to help these children build more positive emotions. An easy way to build positive emotions is by simply being more positive yourself, as well as giving students an opportunity to be more positive. For example, you can start the day right with a positive greeting, then teach students how to savor their accomplishments throughout the day. Another strategy is to use brain breaks. You can use de-escalating brain breaks to help the student calm their emotions if they are feeling sad, like breathing deeply, doing yoga or playing soft music. Or, you can use escalating brain breaks to help build positive energy and happiness, like dancing, playing catch, or playing a fun, active game.

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Learn Character Strengths

All students, especially traumatized students, can benefit from character education. Teaching these strengths in school has been linked to an increase in academic achievement as well as overall well-being. You can help students figure out their own strengths by giving them a character strengths survey. Once students have found and understand their strengths, you can encourage them to use them. For example, if they find their good at sports, they can try out for a sport, or if they are good at acting, they can try out for the drama club. You can also use characters from novels and discuss and compare their strengths as well.

Practice Resilience Skills

Lastly, you can teach resilience. This teaching strategy will help the traumatized student gain a better understanding or what happened or is happening to them and find a way to get through it. A simple way to practice this skill is to teach them to turn their negative thoughts (“I’m horrible at math”) into more positive thoughts (“The harder I work at math, the better I’ll get at it”). Roleplaying is another way to build resilience. Verbalizing their feelings, as well as acting them out, can be a great way to practice this skill.

Any student who has experienced suffering in their lives, will need a shoulder to lean on. For those students who’ve experienced trauma, a teacher is usually that person. Building a positive student/teacher relationship, creating a cozy learning environment, as well as taking the time to build upon positive emotions, students’ strengths, and resilience skills, are all effective ways to support a suffering student.

How do you support a traumatized student? Do you have any teaching strategies or stories that you’d like to share? Please feel free to leave your comments in the section below, we’d love to hear from you on this topic.


Janelle Cox is an education writer who uses her experience and knowledge to provide creative and original writing in the field of education. Janelle holds Masters of Science in Education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is a contributing writer to TeachHUB.com, TeachHUB Magazine, and Hey Teach. She was also the Elementary Education Expert for About.com for five years. You can follow her on Twitter @empoweringed, on Facebook at Empowering K12 Educators, or contact her at Janellecox78@yahoo.com.