Signs a Child is in Crisis at School

11 Jan 2022
Identify a child in crisis at school with strategies for recognition, support, and trauma-informed approaches.

Recognizing Signs of Trauma

Recognizing the signs of trauma in a child is a crucial step in providing the necessary support. By understanding the impact of trauma and identifying the symptoms, educators can help to create a safe and supportive environment for students in crisis.

Understanding the Impact of Trauma

When a student is experiencing trauma, their brain hyper-focuses on the danger, leading to a state of anxiety and stress. This heightened state can persist even after the traumatic event has ended, making it difficult for the child to focus on learning and develop executive functioning skills to manage upsetting and unexpected events productively [1].

The trauma can hinder their ability to process the curriculum and manage classroom rules and expectations effectively. Therefore, it's important for educators to embody trauma responsiveness in their interactions with students, providing support without seeking a definitive answer on whether the student has experienced trauma. Probing students who exhibit signs of trauma for more information could potentially bring more harm and trauma.

Signs of Trauma in Children

Without professional training and certification, questioning students about trauma may cause harm, despite good intentions. Instead, educators should focus on understanding the signs and symptoms of trauma to support students effectively without delving into personal histories.

Possible signs of trauma in students include:

  • Unexplained absences or sudden drop in grades
  • Changes in behavior such as becoming withdrawn or aggressive
  • Difficulty concentrating or paying attention
  • Frequent complaints of physical ailments such as headaches or stomachaches
  • Changes in appetite or sleep patterns

It's important to remember that these signs can also be attributed to other factors, so it's crucial not to jump to conclusions.

Educators can detach students' behaviors from being fixed parts of their character and view them as learned coping mechanisms. By understanding the effects of trauma, educators can help students unlearn unproductive coping strategies and teach new responses that are more beneficial and safer for the students [1].

Being aware of these signs can help educators identify a child in crisis at school and take the necessary steps to provide support. It's a critical part of creating a safe and nurturing environment where every student can thrive.

Supporting Children in Crisis

Supporting a child in crisis at school is a shared responsibility between educators, parents, and mental health professionals. It is important to have reliable resources and provide proper mental health support to ensure these children thrive in their personal and academic lives.

Resources for Educators and Parents

There are numerous resources available to assist educators and parents in supporting a child in crisis. Organizations such as Turnaround for Children have gathered resources from experts in the field to aid in initiating conversations about the crisis and supporting student mental health on the pathway to healing [2].

Other organizations offering resources include the National Association of School Psychologists, National Child Traumatic Stress Network, Everytown for Gun Safety, and Sandy Hook Promise Learning Center. These resources provide access to trainings, resources, and curricula related to school crises.

For instance, the Sandy Hook Promise Learning Center offers various programs aimed at addressing school crises, accessible at no cost to educators, students, and parents [2].

Mental Health Support for Children

Providing mental health support for children in crisis is crucial. As per youth.gov, as many as one in five children/youth have a diagnosable mental health disorder. Coordination between public service agencies can improve treatment for these youth.

Additionally, some children face unique challenges, such as those aging out of the foster care system. In Fiscal Year 2009, nearly 30,000 youth aged out of foster care, representing nine percent of the young people involved in the foster care system that year. This transition can be particularly challenging for youth who have grown up in the child welfare system [3].

Therefore, it's essential to ensure that mental health support is in place for children in crisis, particularly those facing additional challenges. This support can be in the form of counseling, therapy, or other mental health services, and should be a coordinated effort between schools, families, and mental health professionals.

In conclusion, supporting a child in crisis at school requires a comprehensive approach that includes access to reliable resources, mental health support, and collaboration between educators, parents, and mental health professionals. By working together, we can help ensure that these children receive the support they need to overcome their challenges and succeed in school.

Strategies for Managing Stress

When a child is in crisis at school, it is pivotal to have effective strategies in place to manage stress and support their emotional well-being.

Emotional Check-Ins

Emotional check-ins are powerful tools in understanding a child's emotional state and providing timely intervention. This involves creating opportunities for children to express their feelings freely. For example, educators can ask children to draw or paint a picture and discuss it, which can be a non-threatening way for them to convey their emotions.

These check-ins allow educators to gauge the emotional well-being of their students without delving into personal histories that may be sensitive or private [1]. They can also help educators identify signs of distress early, enabling them to provide the necessary support and interventions promptly.

Positive Coping Strategies for Children

Helping children develop positive coping strategies is critical for managing stress and promoting emotional well-being. Activities like belly breathing and imagining a safe, peaceful place can help reduce stress in children and foster resilience [4].

Educators can also help students unlearn unproductive coping strategies and teach new responses that are more beneficial and safer for the students. By understanding the effects of trauma, educators can detach students' behaviors from being fixed parts of their character and view them as learned coping mechanisms.

For example, educators can:

  1. Teach students relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation.
  2. Encourage physical activities, such as sports or yoga, which can help reduce stress.
  3. Promote creative outlets, such as art, music, or writing, which can provide a safe space for children to express their feelings.

While these strategies can be helpful, it's important to remember that each child is unique and what works for one child may not work for another. Therefore, educators should be flexible and patient, allowing children to find the coping strategies that work best for them. Early intervention and consistent support can make a significant difference in the life of a child in crisis at school.

Importance of Mental Health in Schools

The significance of mental well-being in the scholastic environment cannot be overstated. Not only does it play a vital role in a child's overall health and development, but it also directly impacts their academic performance and success.

Link Between Mental Health and Academic Success

Research indicates a robust link between students’ mental health and their academic success. This correlation underscores the importance of mental health awareness during school readiness [5].

Children dealing with mental health challenges may find it difficult to concentrate, engage, and perform well in school. These difficulties can subsequently lead to lower academic achievement, absenteeism, and higher dropout rates.

On the other hand, children who enjoy good mental health are generally more successful in school. They are better equipped to communicate effectively, think clearly, demonstrate empathy, and develop positive relationships. These skills not only contribute to their academic success but also prepare them for life beyond school.

The importance of mental health in children's academic success makes it a crucial aspect of preparing for a new school year. Therefore, mental health support for children is essential to helping them thrive, enjoy academic success, and reach their full potential [5].

Role of Schools in Supporting Student Mental Health

Schools play a vital role in supporting student mental health. They provide daily contact and consistent structure for students, making them an excellent setting for mental health interventions and support. Educators can assist by providing necessary resources to promote mental well-being [5].

Moreover, schools are in a unique position to identify students struggling with mental health issues early. They can initiate appropriate interventions and provide referrals to mental health services.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is dedicated to promoting mental health and preventing substance misuse as critical components of overall health and wellness. This includes equipping parents, teachers, and students with resources for a mentally healthy return to school.

As research has demonstrated, as many as one in five children/youth have a diagnosable mental health disorder. Coordinating between public service agencies can improve treatment for these youth.

In conclusion, schools play a crucial role in supporting student mental health. They need to ensure they provide an environment that fosters mental well-being, offers necessary resources, and promotes early identification and intervention for students experiencing mental health issues. This holistic approach will not only benefit the students but also contribute to a healthier and more productive learning environment.

Trauma-Informed Approaches

Handling a child in crisis at school demands trauma-informed approaches that prioritize the safety and well-being of the student. These approaches include creating a safe environment and developing trauma responsiveness in educators.

Creating a Safe Environment

When a student is experiencing trauma, their brain hyper-focuses on the danger and is unable to concentrate on much else until the threat has passed. This state of anxiety and stress can persist even after the traumatic event has ended. As such, it's crucial to create a safe environment that alleviates this sense of danger.

Children who have experienced or are experiencing trauma often find it difficult to focus on learning and develop executive functioning skills, affecting their ability to process the curriculum and manage classroom rules and expectations effectively. A safe and supportive environment can help mitigate these challenges, allowing the child to shift from a state of survival to one of learning.

Creating a safe environment involves establishing predictable routines, fostering open communication, and offering consistent emotional support. This approach can help students feel secure, understood, and cared for, easing their anxiety and enhancing their ability to engage with the learning process.

Trauma Responsiveness for Educators

As mandated reporters, educators need to embody trauma responsiveness in their interactions with students. They should recognize the signs of trauma and provide support without probing for more information, which could potentially cause more harm and trauma to the student.

Without professional training and certification, questioning students about trauma may cause harm, despite good intentions. Therefore, educators should focus on understanding the signs and symptoms of trauma to support students effectively without delving into personal histories [1].

Educators can detach students' behaviors from being fixed parts of their character and view them as learned coping mechanisms. By understanding the effects of trauma, they can help students unlearn unproductive coping strategies and teach new responses that are more beneficial and safer for the students [1].

In essence, trauma-informed approaches require educators to be mindful of their interactions with students and focus on fostering a safe and supportive environment. This approach not only aids in the immediate well-being of the student but also contributes to their long-term growth and development.

References

[1]: https://www.edutopia.org/article/recognizing-signs-trauma/

[2]: https://turnaroundusa.org/toolbox/resources-tools-for-school-crisis-response/

[3]: https://youth.gov/youth-topics/youth-mental-health/warning-signs

[4]: https://www.unicef.org/parenting/child-care/how-to-recognize-signs-of-distress

[5]: https://www.samhsa.gov/blog/back-to-school-and-mental-health-supporting-children

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