Intentional Connection Over the Holiday Break

We are quickly approaching the final days of instruction for many before schools close for holiday breaks. A lot of teachers and students are looking forward to a couple weeks of rest, relaxation, and some fun. However, breaks from school for some students bring stress. This is because when school is not in session students lack opportunities to interact with caring adults and peers, and have little or no consistency to help structure their days. This is difficult, especially for traumatized children who thrive when they experience predictability and connection.

Why are the holidays hard on mental health?

The holidays can be a hard on anyone's mental health. In fact, according to the American Psychological Association, 9 in 10 adults struggle with this time of year including a 41% increase in stress reported compared to other times of the year. When adults express their stress and anxiety, kids notice. While traditional "holiday stress" can include financial concerns, busy schedules, or thoughts of loved ones, this collective stress can also find it's way into our school climate as well.

Common concerns for students around the holidays

In between the fun of class parties, the scramble to wrap up projects, and teaching the importance of generosity during this season are several underlying concerns for our most vulnerable kids:

  • Fears of Routine Change: For some students, the structured environment of school provides a sense of security and predictability. The holiday break disrupts this routine, leading to anxiety and uncertainty. This is particularly challenging for students who thrive on the regular schedule of school days–the sudden lack of structure can be disorienting and stressful.
  • Domestic Situations: Unfortunately, not all home environments are conducive to relaxation and safety. For students facing challenging domestic situations, school is often an escape and a place of support. The holiday break can mean an extended period in an environment where they may feel unsafe or unsupported, exacerbating feelings of anxiety and isolation.
  • Financial Concerns: The holiday season often brings additional financial pressures, which can be acutely felt by students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. The lack of access to school meals and the expectations of the holiday season can add to the stress, making them worry about basic necessities and the inability to participate in holiday activities that might require financial expenditure.

Support Mental Health over the Holidays

The holidays are a time of year where the felt effects of connection are incredibly important. It's also a time where we all should find the opportunity to reset.

For those teachers and students who enjoy breaks – relish in every moment!

  • Get outside on sunny and warm(er) days
  • Connect with family and friends outside or virtually
  • Take a nap
  • Read a book
  • Catch up on movies and shows

For those who need consistency and connection, educators might try one of two of the following strategies

  • Schedule email messages to be sent a few times over break to students who benefit from interactions
  • Invite students to a “challenge” where they write down one thing every day that made them feel happy – tell them you will check in with them after the break for a full report.
  • Take some time in class this week to create a sample “holiday break” schedule for students where they identify two or three things they will do each day (e.g., play outside, read for 15 minutes, connect with a friend).
  • Remind them that even when you do not see them in class or virtually, you are thinking about them and will be excited to see them when you both return from the break.
pillars of intervention

The Core Pillars of Intervention

There are three inter-related core needs or pillars of intervention as referred to by Bath & Seita (2018) for successful intervention with children affected by adversity. These pillars include: safety, connection, coping ability. A felt sense of safety in the physical, emotional, relational, and cultural realms is established when educators and practitioners remain in a place of curiosity with children. This also supports connection and alignment to promote healing and build resilience, buffering or protecting against future experiences. Connection-building through meaningful interactions establishes a caring and healing environment where learning how to cope adaptively with stress can occur. Empathy and a nonjudgmental approach is necessary for children to feel supported in being honest and open in exploring how what has happened is impacting the way that person experiences themselves, others and the world around them.

Unfortunately, each of us only has limited opportunities to establish safety and connection throughout children's days or weeks. So how can we make the most of the time we do have? I spoke about this topic in an episode of Resilient Educators. Watch the excerpt below.

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How Can Teachers Prevent Bullying?

October is National Bullying Prevention Month

Name-calling, mockery, harassment and threats are bullying. They are traumatic. Remember: Any experience that leaves a person feeling hopeless, helpless and unable to do something about their situation is trauma. Children who experience bullying often feel unsafe at school. They might worry about seeing other students in class or in the hallways who are overtly mean by calling them names or show more covert behaviors such laughing as they walk by or giving nasty looks. Students who are bullied might be fearful of rumors saying, “Someone is going to beat you up today.” They are often afraid to discuss their problems due to embarrassment or worry that reports will just make things worse.

What Are the Signs of Possibly Bullying?

While every student may process the emotional toll of bullying in different ways, there are several signs that should encourage teachers to stay curious about what might be happening:

  • Sudden tearfulness but will not disclose what is wrong
  • Sitting or doing things alone
  • Self-deprecating remarks
  • Changes in mood and behavior
  • Decline in school functioning
  • Attendance issues – students who are bullied often skip school

How Can Teachers Prevent Bullying?

It's certainly the responsibility of staff to intervene when witnessing or hearing about bullying in their school or classroom. However, there are several strategies for teachers to be proactive before the bullying occurs:

  • Do not brush off the small stuff. Take name-calling, mockery, harassment and threats seriously.
  • Set the tone immediately for kind, inclusive and respectful interactions and behavior. Continue these discussions often.
  • Make reporting bullying feel safe for victims and witnesses.
  • Adult supervision should be present everywhere in the school building.
  • Make sure every student feels connected to at least one adult in your building.
  • Make intentional connection opportunities for students who need support from peers.

Making intentional efforts to connect with all students throughout the school is critical. We should not expect every staff member to have a relationship with every student in the school, but we can certainly expect the staff as a whole to ensure every student has an adult they can rely on in the building. Click below to download Starr's individual and school-wide connections assessments.

Download your free connections assessment

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6 Ways to Show Educators You Care

6 Ways to Show Teachers You Care

The National School Climate Center notes that “empirical research has shown that when school members feel safe, valued, cared for, engaged, and respected, learning increases and staff satisfaction and retention are enhanced.” (2017)

More than ever educators need to feel respected. Maybe you are an administrator or an educator yourself. Regardless, you can help promote a school climate where teachers feel special and most importantly valued.

If you are an administrator, consider a year-long campaign—rather than just during teacher appreciation week—to celebrate and support educators. Put together a group of school board members, PTA members, parents, and students to make this come to life.

If you are an educator, put together your own group of colleagues to find ways to help support one another. Encourage your school administration to participate.

6 Ideas to Show your Teaching Staff You Care

  • Posters, social media posts or newsletters to the school community featuring an educator of the week or a group of educators each week depending upon the number of staff in your building
  • Regular handwritten notes from administrators, PTA members, parents and students given to their educators
  • Secret Teacher friends – assign secret teacher friends for anyone who wants to participate. Small treats, notes of encouragement are given to the teacher several times throughout the year
  • Bagel or Donut Fridays
  • Gift cards to local restaurants or coffee shops – ask for donations from parents or local establishments
  • Set up a coffee bar and snacks in the teacher’s lounge


Educators are natural helpers. While this mentality is critical for student success, we often find teachers neglecting to help themselves. Click below to identify your potential stressors and resources to remain resilient.

More related resources from Starr Commonwealth

5 Reasons for Teachers to Co-Regulate Emotions

5 Reasons for Teachers to Co-Regulate Emotions (and How to Start from Day One)

We cannot expect children who are already stressed and activated to be able to regulate on their own. They need our help. When you help a child regulate, rather than expecting them to regulate on their own, it is called co-regulation. Adults underestimate how much children and adolescents require adult support and guidance to manage their feelings when they are worried, angry, hurt or scared. When adults provide the correct strategies for regulating emotion, the results can mean the world to a child’s success.

  • Improved attitudes towards self, school, and others
  • Enhanced positive pro-social behavior
  • Reduced misbehavior and aggression
  • Reduced emotional distress
  • Improved academic performance

How can I help my students co-regulate emotions?

Be with a child when they are feeling out of control emotionally and/or behaviorally. Your demeanor is important. The less words you use at this time, the better. Simply let the child know you understand they are feeling overwhelmed and you are there to help them until they feel more in control of their emotions and behavior.

Start by teaching breathwork and movement activities to children and then practice them on a regular basis. Encourage them to practice the activities on their own or with the help of their parent/caregiver. The goal is for them to easily engage in breathing or movement changes when they need help regulating their emotions or behaviors. The more they practice, the easier it will become for them to call upon these resources during uncomfortable or overwhelming situations.

The calmer you remain, the more the child will begin to calm down.  Model how to regulate by taking a deep breath, walking slowly, or distracting the child with play or drawing. Practice this often. It takes many co-regulation experiences for some children to learn how to do so on their own.


Start teaching breathwork and movement activities to children and then practice them on a regular basis. The goal is for them to easily engage in breathing or movement changes when they need help regulating their emotions or behaviors. The more they practice, the easier it will become for them to call upon these resources during uncomfortable or overwhelming situations. Learn more and download our free co-regulation activity below.

More related resources from Starr Commonwealth

teacher helping stressed student

4 Habits for Teachers to Help with Student Stress

4 Habits for Teachers to Help with Student Stress

Trauma and toxic stress aren’t always rooted in the obvious. In many cases there is not just one thing that has happened but a constant experience of stress related to multiple exposures. As we focus on critical events that receive the attention of adults and even gain media coverage, it is often the day-to-day traumatic experiences impacting so many children that are forgotten. Chronic experiences such as living at or below the poverty line aren’t specific events but rather ongoing circumstances.

How Can Teachers Help Students with Stress?

You may have one or several students in your own classroom this year struggling with stress—especially at the beginning of the year. When students experience stress, they have a hard time learning. Stress makes it difficult for all of us to stay focused, recall information and problem-solve. Stressed students may be inattentive, fidgety, disruptive – even defiant. If their stress is from circumstances outside of school, you might feel helpless to do anything about their situation. While you may not be able to do anything about what is causing their stress, you can help them while they are at school. There are simple things you can do to help keep their stress levels managed and support their learning.

  • Connect with the student. Let them know you notice that they might be having a difficult time learning and that you are there to help support them. Not sure where to start? Read my 6 tips for making connections.
  • Observe the child’s behavior and consider what they might need. If a child is fidgety and in and out of their seat, perhaps they need a quick water or walk break. If a child is inattentive, perhaps they need a different way to engage.
  • Ask the child what they think they need most to be successful in the classroom at specific times or throughout the day. Set them up for success.
  • Provide the student with options to reduce stress and support their learning: working alone, or with a small group, visiting the comfort corner, using noise-canceling headphones, alternative seating options, planned breaks during the day, access to fidgets, drawing supplies or puzzles.

Psychotherapy with Infants and Young Children: Repairing the Effects of Stress and Trauma on Early Attachment by Alicia F. Lieberman and Patricia Van Horn

Understanding the effects stress can have on a students performance is paramount to success, and something teachers must understand on day one of any given school year. Click below to map the brain’s response to trauma and identify how it may look in your students.

More related resources from Starr Commonwealth

6 Simple Tips for Building Relationships with Students

Building relationships with students is the most important thing you can do as an educator. It can be the strongest factor in reducing incidents of anxiety, depression, suicide, substance abuse, and violence. Additionally, Starr has witnessed measured improvements in reading, writing, and office referrals in schools utilizing Starr’s 10 StepsRegardless of race, ethnicity, or level of family income, a sense of belonging and community is universal!

This can be easily obtained through routine strategies that define a teacher student relationship. 

  • Ratio of 5:1 interactions – Notice a student 5 times when they are on task or behaving appropriately for every 1 time you notice them when they are not on task or are misbehaving.
  • Time “in” and co-regulation – When a child is dysregulated, you offer them an opportunity to regain a sense of control in your presence. You sit with them, go for a walk with them, breathe, engage in a regulating activity.
  • Check-in & check-out – Invite students to check-in and out with you at the start and end of each class period or school day so they can let you know if there is anything they need you to support.
  • Clubs, youth groups, sports, classes and opportunities to be with other children.
  • Phone calls home to parents & caregivers to share good news, updates on what happened during the school day.
  • Buddy and peer-to-peer opportunities for both learning and play.

As students return to school, the feeling that there is at least one accessible and trusted adult for them in their building will improve their desire to come to school and lower anxiety while they are there. Conducting a “Connections Assessment” is a simple activity to ensure every student has a connection to one or more adults in your building. Circulate a document that identifies each student by name or photo to each adult in your building. Ask adults to indicate each student to whom they feel connected. Then, distinguish the students who have little to no connections from those who have many. For students in need, link them to at least two adults in your building who will make intentional bids to connect with them every day. These meaningful interactions do not have to take a lot of time but are powerful when repeated over time. Connections happen through non-verbal gestures such as smiles and waves or by saying hello and asking a question or two. The goal is for students to have at least one adult who notices them every day.

How to Build Relationships with Students

Not sure where to start building relationships with students? Download our simple “Fostering Connections & Who Am I?” worksheets for teachers and students to teach you more about themselves.

More related resources from Starr Commonwealth

Rejection: The Crisis of Belonging

Belonging - I am important to someone and they want to know what my life is like – not only what I need help with but what my strengths are too.

The power and influence of positive human relationships in fostering resilience cannot be overstated. Urie Bronfenbrenner, a developmental psychologist renowned for his ecological systems theory of child development, once stated that ”every child needs at least one adult who is irrationally crazy about him or her.” Bronfenbrenner believed this was the greatest factor contributing to one’s healthy well-being later in life. Family and social environmental processes associated with resiliency include a stable, nurturing parent or caregiver, a connection to an adult in the extended family, and consistent family processes such as rituals, traditions, and structure. But when children have experienced or continue to experience trauma and toxic stress, sometimes the need for belonging is not met. What we know now is that if families can’t always provide a sense of belonging and the connections children need, schools are the next best place to meet these needs. This is why the National Center for Traumatic Stress Network has issued a call to action for schools to play a critical role in addressing childhood trauma.

How about those whose sense of belonging is stripped from them at school because of how they self-identify? How many of us have taken pause within our leadership meetings or when collaborating with our colleagues to be curious about why many youth who identify as LGBT+ don’t feel safe to be who they are at school, and consequently suffer academically and emotionally?

According to GLSEN, 85.2% of LGBT+ youth report being harassed at school. Regardless of one’s values or beliefs, educators must respond to this call for help. We must create environments where all kids can show up authentically and be accepted for who they are in order to learn to the best of their ability.

Click below to learn more about crisis of belonging LGBT+ youth—as well as many other students—face in our schools.

Make sure to take advantage of Pride month savings by purchasing Starr's LGBT Youth: From Trauma to Belonging eCourse before July 1!

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Courageous Classrooms: Making Mistakes is Courageous

Starting the year with learning how to handle mistakes is important because this is something we will most likely be doing every day. We all make mistakes and it happens often. We are not robots that are programmed to do the same thing over and over. We are human beings who make mistakes, mess up, and sometimes make bad choices. This is all part of being human.

Ask students how they feel when they make a mistake, mess up, or make a choice that is later regretted.

All feelings are normal and OK. Some feelings include:

  • Embarrassed
  • Sad
  • Angry
  • Not smart (students may identify “dumb” or “stupid”)
  • Worried or nervous

Although our feelings change when mistakes occur, our abilities, talents, and who we are as a person DOES NOT change. It does not change who we are. The most important part of making a mistake is how we respond when it happens.

Mistakes can be good:

  • When we learn something new, we often mess up several times. One example is learning to ride a bike. We will most likely fall several times before learning how to ride a bike. If we don’t ever try, we won’t learn new skills.
  • It teaches our body to be flexible so we can go with the flow.
  • We might also be able to learn to have fun even if things aren’t going perfectly. Sometimes it can be fun to laugh at yourself (not others) when you mess up!

We all make mistakes. When we make mistakes at school, our teachers and friends can remind us that it is OK and that we are still good students/friends/people even if we make a mistake. Making mistakes reminds us that we are courageous!

Download the resource below and post it in your classroom to remind your students to be courageous through mistakes.

Learn more with these offerings from Starr Commonwealth

Courageous Classrooms: Build the Foundation

The new school year is upon us, and it’s important to recognize that the beginning of the year can be difficult and can cause a variety of feelings for students and adults. To get started on the right foot, have students think about all of the feelings that their body may be experiencing. There may be so many that they become mixed up and they may even be unsure of how they are feeling. It’s not important to know exactly what we are feeling, but instead know that it’s OK no matter what. All feelings are normal and OK. It’s great if you are excited to be at school and it’s also OK if you feel mad, nervous, or sad. Together we will support each other and our feelings will change over time.

How can we help support our kiddos feelings? As early in the school year as possible, discuss concepts related to being courageous. Ask students what it means to be courageous and/or examples of being courageous.

Being courageous means (include some of these concepts):

  • To be brave
  • To believe in yourself
  • To keep going even when something is difficult
  • To not give up (to try your best)
  • To handle tough things
  • To accept yourself when you are making mistakes, when something is hard, or when you aren’t doing as well as you want
  • To believe you can keep working hard to accomplish something (even when part of you thinks you can’t do it)
  • Courage is something within you that is always there even when you don’t feel it and can’t find it (it is within all of us)
  • Doing the right thing even when you don’t want to or when others don’t agree with you

Together, we can practice being courageous, and it will get easier for all of us.

Students can earn compliments, your school/classroom incentives, and can feel proud when using courageous skills. Remind students that an adult may not even know that they have used the skill, so encourage them to let an adult know when they were being courageous. Also, encourage students to notice when adults are being courageous. Teachers should be modeling these skills during the week (e.g., computer not working so being courageous by teaching the lesson a different way).

Reinforce ANY behavior that can be considered courageous. This week should have the most amount of reinforcement to help students develop a positive mindset about school and their ability to be successful. Acknowledgement also helps them to feel important and valued.

Our Courageous Classroom

Throughout the next several weeks, this blog will help you build a courageous classroom. The introductory statements below start simple, but will evolve into power SEL reminders for your students.

  • In this room we will be courageous, we will work together, and we will be there for each other
  • Some days we won’t feel courageous, but we will keep going and we will try our best

Optional follow-up activity: Create a banner or poster with courageous classroom in the title (We are a courageous classroom, Mrs. Smith’s Courageous Class, etc.). Have students decorate the poster with pictures or words to represent courage. You may also want to students and staff sign the poster.

Learn more with these offerings from Starr Commonwealth

Post-COVID Stress Disorder and Pandemic Trauma and Stress Experience

The COVID-19 pandemic is triggering a wide variety of emotional, physical, and economic issues. There is extreme distress and children and adults alike are reporting worry, fear, hurt, and anger along with symptoms and reactions such as anxiety, depression, fatigue, difficulty focusing, problematic behavior, and the use of at-risk coping skills such as substance abuse. There is grief over what has been lost, and uncertainty about how to navigate daily life and concerns about what the future holds. Exposure to the pandemic, however, does not fit neatly within prevailing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) DSM-5 diagnostic criteria. This is because the DSM-5 attributes traumatic stress reactions to past, and largely direct, exposure to certain life-threatening events, and thus do not readily account for emerging evidence that COVID-19 is associated with PTSD symptomology (Bridgeland, et al., 2021)

Fortunately, there is literature appearing that provides us with names for all we are experiencing related to the pandemic. Post-COVID Stress Disorder and Pandemic Trauma and Stress Experience refer to the abundant responses and psychological consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic (Taxman, Owen & Essig, 2021).

Protective Factors

  • Social support
  • Financial stability
  • Healthcare resources
  • Safe workplace
  • Wellness programs

Traumatic Stress

  • Severe illness
  • Hospitalization
  • Witnessing death
  • Death of a loved one
  • Extreme exposure to COVID-19 details

General Stress

  • COVID-19 exposure and quarantine
  • Social isolation
  • Employment and/or income loss
  • Working from home with children
  • Being a caregiver
  • Making difficult decisions about health, education, finances, etc.

For individuals, this includes features reflecting the harmful consequences of accumulating stress and trauma. However, there are also features that reflect resilience and positive adaptations.

  • Fear for the future, weariness for the present, and grief for a lost past.
  • Increased frustration and despair.
  • Increased withdrawal, isolation, and fear of others as a source of the infection.
  • Loss of focus, both on specific tasks as well as general goals.
  • Increased mental mistakes and “fuzzy thinking”.
  • Hypervigilance to potential losses.
  • Realistic worries about finances.
  • Disruptions of normal patterns of behavior.
  • Closer family ties and reliance on friends.
  • Increased altruism, including worry about others.

The experience is real and we are feeling it. For many, the use of Post-COVID Stress Disorder and Pandemic Trauma and Stress Experience provide us with ways to name and validate the impact of the pandemic on our lives.

No matter how COVID-19 and its impact are manifesting in your or your loved ones' lives, its never too late to learn the skills and strategies to build resilience. Our streaming content can help! Get access to 60+ hours of trauma-informed professional development content to transform the lens through which you see childhood behavior. Get started for free today!

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Bridgland, M., Moeck, E., Green, D., Swain, T., Nayda, D., Matson, M., et al. (2021). Why the COVID-19 pandemic is a traumatic stressor. PLoS ONE 16(1): e0240146.

Taxman, J., Owen, G. & Essig, T. (2021). Pandemic Trauma and Stress Experience (PTSE): Adapting Together. For the APsaA Covid-19 Advisory Team. Webinar January 2021

Tucker, P. & Czapla, C. (2021). Post-COVID Stress Disorder: Another emerging consequence of the global pandemic. Psychiatric Times. Volume 38: Issue 1.

Expressive Art and Sensory-Based Interventions

The somatic effects of stress and trauma have been long misunderstood, or identified as symptoms of a terror experience that left no apparent physical injury or scar. However, advances in science now confirm the invisible wounds of trauma are imprinted and stored within the central nervous system of the body (Stanley, 2019; van der Kolk, 2015).  Access to emotions through a process that is aware and connected with internal sensations (temperature, body position, muscle tension, respiratory rate, heart rate, and other internal somatic sensations) is translated to have emotional meaning. This is possible through the use of expressive arts because the engagement with art materials along with the concrete visual imagery allow for easier access to emotions than through verbal communication alone (Kaminski-Cohen & Weihs, 2016).

Immutable research on how children most effectively heal from trauma-related mental health reactions encourages Starr’s movement further away from cognitive approaches and instead promotes the use of expressive art interventions, play-based activities, and attachment-based strategies. For example, play interventions for difficulties such as fear and anxiety have a strong research base that has continued for over the past 50 years. Art therapy provides a tactile experience that induces body sensations and emotions, increasing emotionality ratings and positive affect when compared to verbal processing alone (Czeamanski-Cohen & Weihs, 2016). Additionally, creating art is a personal integrative experience – an experience of flow that increases functional connectivity in the brain and brings an increase in qualities of resilience (Bolwerk et al, 2014). All are interactive treatment modalities, utilizing both mind and body which further strengthen connection and attachment (Porges, 2005).

Starr's intervention programs and training rely heavily on expressive art and other sensory-based activities. Watch an example from my course Structured Sensory Interventions II, and find our best offerings below to get started with the children you work with today!


Bolwerk, A., Mack-Andrick, J., Lang, F. R., Dorfler, A., & Maihofner, C. (2014). How art changes your brain: Differential effects of visual art production and cognitive art evaluation on function brain connectivity. PLOS ONE, 9 (7), e101035. Doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0101035. 

Czamanski-Cohen, J., & Weihs, K. L. (2016). The bodymind model: A platform for studying the mechanisms of change induced by art therapy. The Arts in psychotherapy51, 63-71.

Kaminski-Cohen, J. & Weihs, K.L. (2016). The Bodymind Model: A platform for studying the mechanisms of change induced by art therapy. The Arts in Psychotherapy, 51, 63 – 71. 

Porges, S. W (2005). The role of social engagement in attachment and bonding.  Attachment and Bonding, 33 – 54. 

Stanley, E. (2019). Widen the window: Training your brain and body to thrive during stress and recover from trauma. Penguin Books. 

Van der Kolk, B. A. (2015). The body keeps the score: Brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma. Penguin Books.

Rituals: How to support a smooth transition back to in-person, remote or hybrid learning

Many students and educators are back to school in various formats. In-school, virtual, and hybrid variations of teaching and learning for many have made scheduling and establishing a routine a challenge. During the pandemic, while some days are monotonous, our lives and interactions are also unpredictable. With so many unknowns, some will feel worried and scared. Educators and parents can buffer the stress through the creation of rituals.

You may not know when school will be back in-person. You may be back in-person but fear it may not last long or that it isn’t as safe. You may worry your school district will not go back in-person. You may love virtual school and not want to return any time soon. There are numerous scenarios on the minds of educators, students and families every day.

Rituals are meaningful and interactive activities that help lower stress and promote a sense of connection.

  • Play music or sing a song upon waking up, eating breakfast or during your morning meetings and classes.
  • Make the drive to school, start of class or a new lesson fun by playing a game like i-spy, 10 questions, or tell a joke.
  • Take a break for play or movement at regular times during the day. Use a code word or signal so students know break time is on the way.
  • Celebrate the end of a class, lesson or school day with a fun hand gesture or phrase.

When rituals are established and practiced often, students (and educators) come to expect them – they are fun ways to make a schedule and routine special. Watch my segment below on routines from Starr’s latest Resilient Educators episode for more information!

The APA Stress in 2020 Survey and Overlapping Symptomology

The American Psychological Association’s 2020 Stress in America survey revealed that Americans are experiencing a significant and negative impact as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Americans of all ages are struggling to cope with the disruption—on top of other factors creating stress, including political conflict, burdens of racism, and an economic downturn. The APA has declared a mental health crisis that will yield physical and behavioral health problems, as well as social consequences for decades.

The unfortunate reality is that the stress Americans have endured has been chronic and exaggerated. With such prolonged exposure, emotional and behavior regulation becomes difficult. What we can expect to observe in the youth we work with in clinical and education settings are symptoms and reactions that will look like many other mental health disorders. It will be important for us to remember that our observations might direct us toward diagnoses of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, anxiety, depression, and learning disabilities. However, with all that is going on in the lives of youth, we must be curious and cautious before assuming, labeling or assigning a diagnosis. While the presenting symptoms and reactions may look like a mental health disorder, we must remember to consider the underlying drivers of what we observe. As we have said before, a small amount of stress is tolerable, but our central nervous systems are not made to handle the marathon of stress created by an almost yearlong, global pandemic.  Normalization of the stress response, the practice of stress reducing strategies, and connection to as many protective factors as possible should be our priorities as child caring professionals.

For access to the full APA Stress in 2020 report:

While we know trauma is a fact, so is resilience. Despite the threat of an upcoming trauma tsunami facing our nation due to the Coronavirus pandemic, there is hope. We are seeing proof of the hope every day as parents, essential workers, and communities come together. We are calling on our nation’s congressional leadership, and policymakers at every level, to join this campaign, and support trauma-informed policies and provisions. Together we will be resilient.

Mental health disorders are the most common diseases of childhood. Trauma-Informed, Resilience-Focused Assessment & Differential Diagnosis will provide participants an understanding of the significant overlapping symptomology between mental health disorders and childhood trauma, and a clear view of what it looks like in schools and classrooms. In addition, the gap between the need and treatment of mental health problems in schools will be discussed. Participants will learn practical ways they can help, including: reducing the stigma of mental health, bridging the gaps between treatment and need, and focusing on fostering and nurturing characteristics of resilience in students. Watch the trailer below.

Trauma-Informed, Resilience-Focused Assessment  and Differential Diagnosis is on sale now!

Victim vs Survivor Thinking

One of the hallmarks of trauma work is to help facilitate movement from victim-thinking to survivor-thinking. This is why we spend just as much time processing trauma themes as we do promoting experiences where children can feel safe, empowered and resilient. During prolonged periods of stress such as what we are experiencing during the global pandemic, it is easy to get lost in victim-thinking. Victim-thinking is rooted in feelings of helplessness and hopelessness – feeling unable to do anything about the situation that has happened to us or continues to impact us.

One way to reframe victim-thinking is to explore with children how they are coping despite the difficulty of the pandemic.  The following statements and questions will help children begin to see themselves as survivors rather than victims.

  • You may not feel 100% but you are still here and you are you coping!
  • What is it about yourself that is helping you get from one day to the next?
  • There must be some real strengths you are utilizing to help you during this hard time. What are your greatest strengths?
  • Who is helping you to survive?
  • What is one word you might use to describe how you have gotten through the past several months?
  • What would you say to others to help them get through this time?
  • You are a survivor!

These questions and more can all be centered in a child's Universal Needs. In my course, Structured Sensory Interventions II, I discuss how each Need can also be applied when using the SITCAP model. Watch below and follow the links in the description for the course page.

Learn more with these offerings from Starr Commonwealth

Students as Resources: Navigating Virtual Learning

Educators have reported some surprises in virtual education. Some students who were disengaged during in-person school are actively engaging virtually. Not all students who were actively engaged in-person are engaged virtually. Let’s remember that our students are valuable resources. As we all try to navigate teaching and learning online consider gathering a group of “high flyers” who are having great success with virtual learning. Invite them to attend a virtual focus group where you explore what they enjoy about the new learning environment.

Ask them:

  • What motivates you to participate?
  • What might be turning other students off?
  • What suggestions can you offer to educators, school leadership, parents and clinicians to help us support all learners?

Similarly, connect a group of students who were having success with in-person learning, but are struggling in the virtual environment.

Ask them:

  • What is different for you?
  • What are you missing the most?
  • What are alternative ways school can help you meet your needs (academic, social, emotional, etc.)?

Here are some of the responses Starr has received when students are asked similar questions.

I like not having to worry about impressing people with how I look or what I wear – school online makes that worry non-existent.

Most people don’t want to turn on their cameras but they will if other students do so first.

Sometimes our classroom doesn’t work, but I like that my teacher is learning too and we can fix it together.

I like it when we play games about what we are learning.

It is fun to work in smaller groups than to have so many people on the screen at one time. Maybe we can start all as one group and then break into smaller groups.

I miss seeing my friends.

It is really hard to figure out how to move around the (virtual) classroom – it is confusing with so many links and tabs.

It is really hard for me to learn how to do algebra online – my teacher goes too fast. I just wish he would take it one step at a time. He is rushing and most of my class doesn’t even understand what we learned last week.

These conversations become even more important as many states grapple with a return to online learning and potential isolation. I recently spoke on this topic to my Back to School During a Pandemic learning community. Watch below and follow the links in the description for the course page.

Learn more with these offerings from Starr Commonwealth

8 Quick Ways for Youth to Practice Gratitude

Gratitude is thankful appreciation and acknowledgement of the goodness a person receives or experiences in their life. In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater well-being. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.

Despite the solid research supporting gratitude, when life is challenging it becomes more natural for many of us to focus on problems; what we aren’t feeling or experiencing; things we don’t have - than it is to practice gratitude. But, intentional and simple gratitude practice will allow you and the youth in your life will reap all of the benefits being grateful has to offer.

Notice. Simply notice when you are interacting with another person who makes you smile or feel good. This can be on the phone or other virtual platform.

Say thank you. Verbally say thank you to others for their smile, their friendship, helping you, making you dinner, etc. Say thank you to yourself for carrying on even when you are tired, for taking the time to practice gratitude even if it doesn’t come easily.

Write a thank you text, email or note. Take a minute or two to send a text, email or thank you note to someone who has made a positive impact on your life. Instead of just thinking about it, reach out and let them know.

Breathe. Take one deep breath and be thankful for the air you breathe and how it fills your lungs.

Acknowledge a positive experience. Acknowledge a positive experience by writing it down in a notebook or by telling someone about your experience.

List your VIP(s). Make a list of the very important people in your life. You may have one or you may have many. Write down their names and be thankful they are in your life.

One-a-day. At the end of the day, write down (or even think of) one thing that happened or one thing you experienced that made you grateful.

Gratitude Jar. Find a jar (or box, basket, bowl) and ask your family or friends to all identify one thing or person they feel gratitude for – and add everyone’s gratitude to the jar. Once filled, take out one piece of paper at a time and everyone can share their contribution.

Expressing gratitude is crucial for professionals as well! It is the first line of defense against compassion fatigue, vicarious trauma, and burnout. My colleague and Starr's Senior Trainer Erin Madden Reed explains this important connection in Practicing Resilience: Essential Self-Care Strategies for Helping Professionals. Watch below and follow the links in the description for the course page.

Learn more with these offerings from Starr Commonwealth

Emotional Awareness and Regulation

The use of body maps to help with body scans is a great way to teach and practice emotional awareness. It is very difficult to manage emotions and behavior if you don’t know how to notice and pay attention to the sensations your body provides you when you experience various emotions.

This practice is not only beneficial for adults but also the students and children in our care.

The more you practice listening to your body, the easier it will be to be in charge of how you feel and act at home with your families, in the workplace and for students - at school and with your friends. It is a great feeling to be in control of our emotions and behavior but that comes with emotional awareness practice.

Here is a script you can use on your own or read to a child/student. Make sure you download the following body map to use and have some colored pencils or thin-tipped markers nearby.

Download your Body Scan Map

Sit comfortably. Take a few deep breaths in and out. Now, just take a few seconds to check in with your body. Start with your head and face. Then bring your attention to your neck and throat.  Do you feel any tightness? If you feel like you want to move – feel free to do so.

Now roll your shoulders back a few times, how do your shoulders feel? What about your arms, wrists and fingers. Wiggle your fingers. How do the muscles feel across your back and chest. Now notice your stomach. How does it feel? Lastly, move your attention to your legs and all the way down to your feet and the tips of your toes.  

What are the parts of your body that feel good? Bad?

Is there any part of your body that feels calm? Tense?

Do you feel any aches, pains or other sensations like happiness in your heart or butterfly feelings in your stomach?

The sensations in your body help you understand how you are feeling. They are the first clue that you may be nervous, angry or scared. The more we listen to them, the more you will be able to make good decisions with each feeling that comes your way.

Make a mark or color in the parts of your body on the body map outline that you notice the most. Use any color you wish to represent feelings of calm, tension, pain or good feelings like happy or excited.

Great job – What stands out most to you as you look at your body map? What do you need most right now to feel more balanced and comfortable?

My colleague and Starr's Director of Professional Training and Coaching L. Kathryn Hart dives deeper into emotional awareness in Healing Trauma & Restoring Resilience in Schools. Watch below and follow the links in the description for the course page.

Learn more with these offerings from Starr Commonwealth

Connection and Vulnerability

The need and desire to connect with others remains essential. The prolonged need to physically distance, teach, learn and work remotely coupled with the inability to visit friends and family due to travel restrictions and other necessary coronavirus prevention precautions is taking a toll on us all. In recent months, there has been encouragement to reach out to others and remain connected. This is because connection with others gives our lives significant meaning and purpose. We are all wired to connect and as childhood trauma expert Bruce Perry says, “We are born to love.”

We all know what it feels like to be in the presence of others (even virtually) but not truly feel connected. I have felt this lately through virtual telehealth sessions and trainings where everyone is trying to remain calm, get used to the technology and juggle barking dogs and household demands with the person or people with whom we are interacting. Educators are feeling disconnected from students because they aren’t in person or lack of participation. We all know how middle and high school youth loathe turning on their cameras. Sometimes we spend hours talking to a computer without seeing faces.

Brene Brown has taught us that true connection requires vulnerability. We all desperately need connection, but it comes at a cost – we must get comfortable with discomfort and that isn’t easy.

What does this really mean? How can we do get there, and what are the benefits?

Vulnerability is consciously and intentionally choosing yourself to be seen, and to be seen fully. To say it another way, being vulnerable means that we make a decision to be honest with ourselves and others by exposing and sharing authentic thoughts, feelings, opinions, and even appearances. This is not an easy place to be – it is uncomfortable and scary. It takes courage. The fear of others thinking you are not worthy or not good enough because of your uniqueness is universal. We all experience this unease in some way. But, it is essential for true connection. So how can we, as child-caring adults, practice vulnerability so we may reap the full benefits of connection?

  • Compliment others, tell them they are appreciated, you respect them, you love them.
  • Establish clear boundaries. Maybe you need more time to prepare for a meeting or only want to answer email during working hours.
  • Admit if you need help or support. Reach out and let someone know you are struggling.
  • Say “I’m sorry.” Take responsibility for your actions and do not blame.
  • Tell someone if they are being hurtful or insensitive. You can be kind and truthful simultaneously.
  • Be unique. Don’t hold back trying out a new hairstyle. Let your taste in music, art, or politics be known.
  • Be okay with “not knowing. “ Ask questions. Be curious.
  • Tell yourself daily that you are worthy of being loved.
  • Believe you are enough, exactly the way you are! There is no such thing as perfect.

Szalavitz, M. & Perry, B. (2010). Born for love: Why empathy is essential and endangered. Harper Collins: NY, NY.


Ted Talk with Brene Brown

The power of vulnerability

Making connections, despite one's vulnerability, is crucial to establishing belonging among all of us. I dive deeper into establishing belonging in our Back to School During a Pandemic series. Enjoy a free episode below.

You can join the conversation! In Back to School During a Pandemic, Dr. Soma walks alongside professionals, answering your questions and providing insight and support during this trying time. Learn more on our store.

Learn more with these offerings from Starr Commonwealth

Finding Purpose, Meaning, and Value

Finding meaning, purpose, and value in a time of significant change and loss is a step in both the grieving and healing process.  We might be grieving the loss of a family member or friend, the loss of school and work routine, and everything else that was normal in our lives prior to the global pandemic. It is a time when we have been shaken to the core both professionally and personally. While we might be feeling forced to make sense of difficult life events or experiences, I am inviting you to view this time as an opportunity and as a gift to engage in a part of healing that can give you energy, help make you healthier, and increase your ability to be productive and helpful to others. Making meaning helps jump-start hope, redefines your place in the world, and provides purpose in life. Meaning making also gives a sense of control of the situation because you are acting as a participant in your healing. At the same time, it also helps frame your meaning as part of something bigger in the world.

Reflect upon your sense of meaning, value, and purpose:

  • First, recognize the losses you are grieving and are leading you to want to make meaning in your life.
    • e.g., I miss teaching my students in the classroom. I am grieving the loss of being able to attend larger family gatherings.
  • Make a list of your values and life goals; include your personal, familial, cultural, professional and religious/spiritual values – this is your purpose.
    • e.g., I value health and wellness. I value my family and the ability to provide my children with experiences that bring us joy and laughter. My goal is to support others emotionally who might be struggling.
  • How is your presence and existence significant and valued by others who care about you and the world?
    • e.g., My children rely on me for co-regulation. My friends value my ability to be a good listener. My mom appreciates that I always think about her and include her in my family meals.
  • Are there any creative ways you can find hope and meaning in your life, especially if you find yourself as having little to no free time or space during this pandemic?
    • e.g., Send text messages often to friends and loved ones to check in. Deliver non-perishable food to children in my community with food insecurity. Have a movie or game night with my children at least once on the weekend.

All of these examples are founded in hope. Below, I discuss the importance of hope in our course Back to School During a Pandemic.

You can join the conversation! In Back to School During a Pandemic, Dr. Soma walks alongside professionals, answering your questions and providing insight and support during this trying time. Learn more on our store.

Take your mind body skills or self-care further. Be one of the first 100 subscribers to use BREATHE at checkout to save %75 on Practicing Resilience or Mind Body Skills. Click below before it's too late!

Learn more with these offerings from Starr Commonwealth

Just Breathe!

When you don’t know what to say…just BREATHE.

Part of resilience is having a voice, choice and the ability to help ourselves feel better when overwhelming feelings come our way. The Circle of Courage refers to this universal need as independence. Without this universal need met, adults and children alike feel helpless, hopeless and emotionally exhausted.

It is proven that the part of the brain responsible for language becomes compromised when we have acute or chronic stress. In other words, there are NO words to describe the hurt, fear, anger or overwhelm we may be experiencing with back to school 2020. I hear over and over again, “I just don’t know what to say.” Many also feel like there is little to no choices or solutions for the best approaches to teaching or learning during a global pandemic. Teachers and students are navigating uncharted waters and the waves have been rough – impacting our sense of control and ultimately our sense of independence.

The good news however, also backed by brain science is the power of breath. While breathing is an involuntary function of the brain, we can make a choice and help ourselves feel better by regulating our overwhelming feelings when we breathe with intention. Intentional breathing strategies quickly activate the parasympathetic nervous system, counter-acting the stress response and elicits feelings of calm. The next time you aren’t sure what to say, or what to do or when a student is having a difficult time emotionally or academically, use the power of taking or encouraging an intentional breath.

Click below to learn more and watch Starr Senior Trainer Erin Reed demonstrate several exercises for breathwork at any age.

Learn more breathwork activities and other regulating exercises for all ages in Starr's Mind Body Skills: Activities for Emotional RegulationDownload a free sample below.

Take your mind body skills or self-care further. Be one of the first 100 subscribers to use BREATHE at checkout to save %75 on Practicing Resilience or Mind Body Skills. Click below before it's too late!

Learn more with these offerings from Starr Commonwealth

Hope: Building Resilience as a Survivor

If we can face hard things or times with a sense that there’s something we can do about them, life becomes easier to live. In a time where we are all feeling quite overwhelmed this can be tough. But, hope can truly be the catalyst to get us to create and engage in other behaviors that do make things a little easier and enjoyable. And, performing these behaviors can, in turn, fuel more hope.

The following are ways to help both you and your students feel hopeful. These strategies are things we can do and ARE in our control even amid the pandemic, the overwhelming demands of in person, online and hybrid teaching and learning.

Demonstrate love. Demonstrating love for yourself is just as important as for your students. Be kind to yourself and your body by making sleep and movement priorities during this stressful time. Show kindness and care to your students by noticing them often and offering appreciations for the little things they do or say.

Show grace. Show grace for yourself and your students. This is a time to make a shift to reasonable expectations, a time to ask for help and to offer support if you see someone might need it.

Encourage the sharing of successes. Take inventory every day of your small wins. Ask students to do the same – what made you feel good about yourself or others today? Remember, a win and success doesn’t mean perfection. Instead look for anything you did, said or noticed about others that made you feel good.

You and your students deserve happiness and fun. So go for it – take 5 or 10 minutes at the start or end of class to have fun. Laugh, play music during class, sing a song, have a dance party, ask students to share funny stories or jokes.

In order to sustain this time, it is imperative that we let go of regret, worry and certainly perfection. Those things squash hope. Instead, focus on love, grace, successes and happiness to uplift and renew hope. Use Starr's samples from One-Minute Resilience Building Interventions for Traumatized Children and Adolescents to help brainstorming sessions around the concept of hope.

Download "Building Hope as a Survivor"

Take your pathway to resilience further with Starr's related resources:

Hope: The Pathway to Resilience

What we can all use now is a little bit of hope! The new “now” is hard, it is confusing and it is unpredictable.

For the past couple of weeks we have talked about the Circle of Courage and a quest to provide resilience building and nurturing opportunities for practitioners, educators and the children in their care. We know experiences of belonging, mastery, independence and generosity are protective and healing. But, there is something I should have mentioned earlier: Hope.

Hope is the belief that your future can be better than your past and you play a role in making it – despite adversity. The science and power of hope as a driver for prevention and intervention is grounded in evidence-based research. To the extent that resilience remains a target, hope is the mindset that should serve as the “on ramp” or “driver” of resilient behavior. Increasing hope when stress is high deserves our primary focus as we aim for creating or enhancing resilience. The evidence is convincing that hope buffers stress and adversity, predicts important outcomes, and can be learned and sustained. These findings are consistent for both adults and children demonstrating that hope mitigates the negative effects of toxic stress trauma. To date, there are over 2,000 published studies investigating hope. In every published study of hope, it is one of the best predictors of well-being. So, what does this mean? Goal setting, exploring future-orientation (even very short term), motivation, empowerment and a lot of encouragement are essential. If you or your students are finding it difficult to connect, identify their strengths, engage in activities and learn, start with one of these Hope, Life Goals, and Mastery activities.

Download Hope, Life Goals, and Mastery Worksheets

Duncan, Ashten & Jaini, Paresh & Hellman, Chan. (2020). Positive Psychology and Hope as Lifestyle Medicine Modalities in the Therapeutic Encounter: A Narrative Review. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine. 155982762090825. 10.1177/1559827620908255.

Gallagher, M. W. (Ed.). (2018). Introduction to the science of hope. In M. W. Gallagher & S. J. Lopez (Eds.), Oxford library of psychology. The Oxford handbook of hope (p. 3–7). Oxford University Press.

Take your pathway to resilience further with Starr's related resources:

Building Mastery in Your Classroom

Mastery is reaching our potential with supports. Mastery is NOT perfection.

The second universal need according to the Circle of Courage resilience model is MASTERY. When we talk about mastery we are not talking about perfection but rather the engagement in activities and tasks with adequate supports in place to allow ourselves to feel good about both our efforts and accomplishments. We all require various levels of support to reach our unique potential. Without support, there is often frustration, giving up easily and not enjoying the learning process. This is true with new rules, academics, sports, hobbies and even social situations.
Any person, of any age, will feel empowered and motivated when given experiences and opportunities to engage in activities that bring them connection and joy and learn new ideas and concepts that have meaning to their lives. When activities and learning are coupled with encouragement, patience and support, resilience builds.

  • When teaching in-person or in a virtual classroom, some students may need additional (or even ongoing) verbal or visual reminders about rules and etiquette.
  • Developmental age rather than chronological age should always be considered to set students up for success. If a student is developmentally more of an 8 year old than his chronological age 12, what might you modify or provide as a support to help him stay engaged in your lesson?
  • Scaffolding new ideas and concepts with a breakdown of steps helps.
  • Peer to peer or small group discussions allow for both connection and collaboration.
  • Provide real life examples in your teaching.

What are some of the ways you offer support to your students to set them up for success? Much like the Belonging staff self-assessment, Starr Commonwealth offers an assessment to gauge how you are building Mastery in your classroom. Download your free copy below!

Download your Mastery self-assessment

Learn more about building Mastery in your classroom with my colleague L. Kathryn Hart in Starr's course Healing Trauma & Restoring Resilience in Schools.

Our full Circle of Courage staff self-assessment is featured in Starr's 10 Steps to Create a Trauma-Informed, Resilient School. This resource provides the foundation to empower students, staff, and family. Not only does 10 Steps feature easy to implement steps, but includes case studies, worksheets, and behavior intervention forms. Purchase today and save 50%!
Claim your limited time offer!

Self-Awareness to Regulate Stressors

We are now well into the school year, and everyone has a different scenario–in-person, hybrid, virtual and some teaching one way while their own children are learning a different way. The new “now” is, no doubt, filled with some level of stress for many if not all of us. While there are many aspects we can’t control about our unique situations, there are fast and easy ways we can at least manage our situations and ward off some of the stress we may be experiencing.

What are some signs we can look for that may indicate the various manifestations of stress?

  • Emotional distress might show up looking like anger or anxiety.
  • Personal stress often results in isolating behavior and striving for unobtainable perfectionism.
  • Physical complaints like headaches and stomachaches are often the result of the physical toll of stress on your body.
  • At work, signs of stress might be not wanting to return email or avoidance of tasks.

Most, if not all, parents and teachers I have talked to in the past few weeks returning back to school have reported feeling overwhelmed and exhausted – both indicators of stress overload. While some stress is tolerable, chronic or exaggerated stress is not. It makes it really hard to think clearly, respond patiently, and feel good in general. Identifying indicators of distress is the first step to alleviating stress.

We have created a worksheet for you to use. The downloadable worksheet to identify any distress signals your body is giving you in each of the four areas. These four areas include emotional, personal, physical, and work.

This is a must – you have to identify distress be able to help reduce it. Stress shows up in symptoms, reactions and behaviors.

Download the Self-Awareness Worksheet

Need a quick activity to help anchor you in your awareness? It starts with breathing! Below, my colleague Erin Madden Reed explains both the importance of breathing, as well as how to approach breathwork for children and adults.

Learn more breathwork activities and other regulating exercises for all ages in Starr's Mind Body Skills: Activities for Emotional RegulationDownload a free sample below.

Learn more with these offerings from Starr Commonwealth

Fostering Connections through Who I Am Worksheets

School connectedness is a significant protective factor for all students in preventing substance abuse, violence, absenteeism, suicide emotional problems and eating disorders. Students who feel connected to their school are also likely to have better academic achievement. Now, more than ever – even in a virtual setting, child caring adults must foster connections. Connection is made through ongoing and repetitive moment-to-moment interactions school professionals have with their students. For some, the guide of 5:1 noticing is useful. Aim for at least five positive interactions to every one corrective interaction with each student per day. Noticing comes in many forms:

  • Greet the student by name.
  • Praise for participation.
  • Acknowledgment of character strengths.
  • Gratitude for kindness or helpful interactions between yourself and student or student and peers.
  • Checking-in: “How is your family doing?”
  • Friendly gesture like a wave or head nod.

This may seem like a simple intervention strategy but it is powerful. Every interaction we have with a student matters because it provides an opportunity to promote a sense of safety and engagement.

To take fostering connection with your students a step further, you can use the worksheet Who I Am available to download below. Students can be asked to complete this worksheet and it can then be shared in classroom meetings, office hours and small group sessions with students and their peers.

Download the Who am I worksheet

Fostering connections is Step 3 in Starr's 10 Steps to Create a Trauma-Informed, Resilient School. This resource provides the foundation to empower students, staff, and family. Not only does 10 Steps feature easy to implement steps, but includes case studies, worksheets, and behavior intervention forms. Purchase today and save 50%!

Claim your limited time offer!

More related resources from Starr Commonwealth

Are You Building a Sense of Belonging for Your Students?

In Native American and First Nations cultures, significance was nurtured in communities of belonging. Lakota anthropologist Ella Deloria described the core value of belonging in these simple words: “Be related, somehow, to everyone you know.” Treating others as kin forges powerful social bonds that draw all into relationships of respect. Theologian Marty observed that throughout history the tribe, not the nuclear family, always ensured the survival of the culture. Even if parents died or were not responsible, the tribe was always there to nourish the next generation.

In the classroom, ensuring a sense of belonging for each and every student is critical for success. While this theory is easy to grasp, the reality of developing that sense of belonging isn’t always as clear. To support educators in their everyday practices, Starr has developed a simple self-assessment to help you reach your universal needs goals. Below, Dr. Soma explains the self-assessment tool in our latest Back to School During a Pandemic episode. Click below the video to download your belonging self-assessment. You can print it out, post it around your desk, and ask yourself each week how well you did building belonging!

Download your belonging self-assessment

Our full Circle of Courage staff self-assessment is featured in Starr's 10 Steps to Create a Trauma-Informed, Resilient School. This resource provides the foundation to empower students, staff, and family. Not only does 10 Steps feature easy to implement steps, but includes case studies, worksheets, and behavior intervention forms. Purchase today and save 50%!

Claim your limited time offer!

More related resources from Starr Commonwealth

Developed by Starr’s 2nd President, Dr. Larry K. Brendtro (PhD), and his colleagues, the Circle of Courage® provides the philosophical foundation for Starr’s resilience-focused approach to working with children, families, and communities, in addition to the work of Reclaiming Youth International.

Celebrating Students with Strength Inventories

Every child has strengths. It should be common practice to conduct a strengths inventory on every student in your school. As we begin the school year, now is the perfect time to celebrate each child in your room and their unique qualities. While there are several inventories on the market that help assess strengths, you may also choose to do your own inventory on your own or with colleagues. Click below for a simple strengths inventory that is not only easy to use, but extremely informative. Information provided from a strengths inventory can help with student regulation, inform behavior plans, and drive intervention strategies.

Download your free strengths inventory

Our strength inventory is featured in Starr's 10 Steps to Create a Trauma-Informed, Resilient School. This resource provides the foundation to empower students, staff, and family. Not only does 10 Steps feature easy to implement steps, but includes case studies, worksheets, and behavior intervention forms. Purchase today and save 50%!

Claim your limited time offer!

We are excited to announce Starr's debut of a new offering: Trauma-Informed, Resilience-Focused Episodes. Your time is valuable. As such, we are proud to offer low-cost, short-form content in order to expand and reinforce your toolkit while being sensitive to your time and budget. Each episode is eligible for continuing education credits.

Browse Starr's Episodes

More related resources from Starr Commonwealth

Back to School During a Pandemic: Starr’s Expert Panel

At the culmination of Starr's 2020 Trauma & Resilience Conference, our experts came together to directly address the questions of our attendees. Throughout the session, they discussed returning to school, staff self-care, balancing the myriad of considerations of COVID-19, and many other topics to inspire educators and child-caring professionals.

Starr's Experts:

  • Dr. Caelan Soma
  • Derek Allen
  • Kathy Hart
  • Katie Carpenter
  • Erin Madden Reed

The Expert Panel is one of 21 sessions available for conference attendees. We are excited to announce that these sessions are Starr's debut of a new offering: Trauma-Informed, Resilience-Focused Episodes. Your time is valuable. As such, we are proud to offer low-cost, short-form content in order to expand and reinforce your toolkit while being sensitive to your time and budget. Each episode is eligible for continuing education credits.
NOTE: While the expert panel above is not eligible for CEs, purchase of any conference episodes include details to earn CEs for the panel as well!

Browse Starr's Episodes

More related resources from Starr Commonwealth

Quick Tips to Start the School Year Right

Kathy Hart and her team stand ready to help schools and organizations get the most out of Starr's courses, resources, and materials. Schedule your organization's training today by emailing

Prepare your school to support students, staff, and families as we return to class by purchasing Starr's back to school guide, complete with COVID-19 considerations, resilience-building activities, and more!

Learn more about Starr's back to school resource

Promoting Resilience as Children Return to School

Resilience provides hope, an essential experience for not just students but all of the adults working with them. We may not be able to take away toxic stress and trauma a child has experienced during COVID-19 or will continue to experience in their homes or communities post-pandemic, but we can create new experiences of resilience. Being trauma-informed means we take a child’s past and current adverse experience into consideration. Post-disruption recovery will require that educators are always looking for new opportunities and experiences to provide to students which will either uncover their hidden resilience or cultivate characteristics of resilience to positively shift their view of self, others and the environment.

Resilience is the ability to achieve positive outcomes – mentally, emotionally, socially and spiritually – despite adversity

Resilience research points to many characteristics that will protect children when they experience adversity. For example, psychological and emotional attributes and opportunities associated with resilience in children include: above average verbal skills, cognitive and problem solving opportunities and abilities, positive self-esteem, ability to self-regulate behavior, positive expectations about the future, familial and social supports (Loitre, Martin & Linares, 2005; Rice & Groves, 2005). However, there are four main factors we see repeatedly, in almost every article written about childhood resilience;

  1. Supportive adult-child relationships,
  2. Sense of self-efficacy and perceived sense of control,
  3. Adaptive skills and self-regulatory capacities,
  4. Sources of faith, hope, and cultural traditions that provide meaning and a sense of value in life.

These four main factors align with the Circle of Courage® model of resilience. The following is a look at protective factors that may prevent COVID-19 from being a traumatic experience for children despite exposure to the challenges brought upon by the pandemic.

Belonging, Connections, and Support

  • Parents and caregivers that do their best to connect with children throughout the day–even if it is for short but meaningful interactions in between work, household responsibilities.
  • Children who have maintained connection with family and friends by texting, emailing, sending letters and setting up calls.

"My friend and I have started this pen-pal thing—we send one letter every week and I put fun things inside like teabags or pressed flowers." - 9th grader

Mastery, ability to engage in and practice hobbies and activities

  • Lots of outside activities. Do what you love!
  • Online and home opportunities to practice skills – music, dance, academic, language, art, sports, etc.

“My soccer coach has an online call with us every week. When quarantine started I could only juggle the soccer ball on my knee 8 times in a row but now I am up to 16 juggles!" - 5th grader

Independence, choice, and control over self and situations

  • Empower children to decide which of a group of activities they can complete through lists and/or choice boards.
  • More independent time while parents are working.

“At first I was bored, but now I have a lot of things I like to do while my parents work and I have finished my school work. I learned how to bake a cake from scratch.” - 8th grader

Generosity, helping others, feeling of value

  • Opportunities to help others during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“My mom had us do this thing – we put positive messages on postcards like, “after the rain sunshine will come” and “you’ve got this!” and we sent them to a nursing home in our city. I’m not sure if they got them but it was fun to do.” - 7th grader

This article is an excerpt from Dr. Soma's Resilient Schools: A Back to School Guide During a Pandemic (previously titled COVID-19 Response, Reintegration, and Post-Disruption Recovery)

Learn more about Starr's back-to-school resource

Dr. Soma and her colleagues presented many topics related to the traumatic experience of COVID-19 at Starr's 2020 virtual conference. Watch her keynote below!

Watch the keynote Use the password: freekeynote

Self-Care: Gratitude Writing

There is a great deal of research that supports the effectiveness of expressing gratitude. Gratitude has been shown to help you make friends. One study found that if you thank someone, even an acquaintance, they're more likely to seek a deeper relationship with you. Gratitude has even been shown to fix your physical health. People who show gratitude report less aches and pains and a general feeling of better health. Grateful people also enjoy a higher rate of well-being and happiness and suffer from less symptoms of depression.

We know gratitude enhances our feelings of empathy, and those who show gratitude are more likely to be more forgiving and more likely to behave in a more socially sensitive manner. Gratitude has even been shown to help people sleep better. People who are grateful and appreciate other people's achievements are more able to appreciate their own achievements.

There's several options for how you can engage with being aware and connected to your gratitude. One powerful method is through writing. When writing on your gratitude, do your best not to be too cognitive about it. Try not to censor yourself. Just let yourself feel what you're grateful for. Think of the big things and the small things. Add in your relationships. Maybe material goods, personal talents, people, opportunities, or anything that you feel deeply grateful for.

When you've finished, take a moment to pause and notice how you feel when you immerse yourself into what you're grateful for.


Click below to learn more about gratitude writing and download your guide.

Download your gratitude writing template

Starr's Virtual Trauma & Resilience Conference will feature self-care sessions, in addition to many other topics. Register below!

Register today!

More related resources from Starr Commonwealth

PBIS in Trauma-Informed Resilience-Focused Schools

Many educators may think that Positive Behavior Supports & Interventions is a straightforward system that may not vary school to school. The reality is that PBIS can, in fact, take many forms. It can even be integrated with other areas of focus. Trauma-informed, resilience-focused schools look at the needs of each child. Therefore, PBIS can be integrated into trauma-informed, resilient schools but it should be done with a focus on relationships, self-awareness, and regulation rather than on rewards and punishments.


  • Positive reinforcement through encouraging feedback and noticing.
  • Connect with students.
  • Build relationships – not just rapport.
  • Search for and build upon student strengths and interest.
  • Assess for each student’s universal needs indicating which needs are being met and those which are not being met.
  • Don’t just reward a few. Celebrate the entire class for effort.


  • Use behavior as your clue.
  • Behavior is a response to unmet needs and/or a survival response.
  • Be curious about behavior.
  • Ask “What might be driving this behavior?”
  • Ask “What might the child’s private logic be and how is that impacting the behavior?”


  • Intervention is not for tracking negative behaviors.
  • Use the Starr’s Behavior Support Plan to support the Circle of Courage universal needs of belonging, mastery, independence, and generosity.


  • Adapt the environment to support the student.
  • Provide calming corners.
  • Use sensory supports, mentors, reset spaces, restorative practices, brain breaks, and play.

Click below to learn from Starr Executive Vice President & COO Derek Allen as he explains what to keep in mind when implementing PBIS within a trauma-informed, resilience-focused culture.

Integrating PBIS with a trauma-informed, resilience-focused school can be done seamlessly through Starr's 10 Steps to Create a Trauma-Informed, Resilience-Focused School. Download a free sample below.

Download a sample of 10 Steps

Starr Commonwealth is diving deeper into PBIS and trauma-informed, resilience-focused schools at our virtual conference! Click below to learn more. Additionally, you can learn more with these resources from Starr—including the eCourse Resetting for Resilience seen above. You can register now for 75% off!

De-Escalation: It All Begins with Awareness and Mindfulness

Recently, Starr Commonwealth has received many questions regarding techniques for de-escalating dysregulated behavior. Before any of us can control our fight or flight responses, we must be able to bring awareness to our present moment.

Present moment awareness discharges activations due to fight/flight responses, and brings energy to shutdown. Activities to bring an individual’s awareness to the here and now is the first step to restoring their sense of safety and connection. Practicing present moment awareness on a regular basis leads to more experiences of the vagus nerve/social engagement network being activated, rather than experiences of shut down/fight/flight.

Click below to learn more and watch Starr Senior Trainer Erin Reed explain the process of awareness and mindfulness in the present moment.

Learn more de-escalation with One-Minute Resilience Building Interventions for Traumatized Children and AdolescentsDownload a free sample below.

Download a sample of One Minute Resilience Building Interventions

Learn more with these offerings from Starr Commonwealth

Defusing Sessions Available through Starr Commonwealth

What is defusing, and where would these sessions fit in the crisis response timeline?

Defusing is both supportive and educational. Its purpose is not to process or explore feelings, nor to allow for the ventilation of feelings (this happens 1:1 and after 4 weeks has passed). Why? This process prevents participants from revealing more about themselves than they wish to in a group and also protects the other participants from being exposed to others emotional intensity that may further dysregulate them. Through defusing, we allow participants to know they are not alone, normalize thoughts and reactions, educate participants about what they may experience in the following days/weeks, and provide referral resources should they wish to talk with someone in the future. When defusing, the sooner after an event the better so people can begin to cope more effectively and plan for the future while holding the unknowns. However, during ongoing situations like COVID-19, any time is appropriate for defusing.

Who can benefit from defusing?

Anyone who is feeling stressed and unsure what is next. There are many unknowns right now— especially for our educators and their students. We want to offer a space to process and check in, to make sure we as professionals are in a good headspace before diving back in to teach or help kids. This is a service we are able to offer to anyone in the United States.

How do I know if we're ready for defusing, or the steps following defusing?

Defusing is for all of us right now. COVID-19 has created an ongoing traumatic event, and none of us are quite sure what our afters look like yet. But there was a before that has passed. Many of us may have also experienced losses of many kinds during this time, whether friends or family members, or events and things we were looking forward to, or even just our normal routines.  After defusing, we offer whole staff training, reflection groups, and more.

What are the most important factors to consider when defusing? What can readers begin to do immediately, even before a defusing session?

Crisis intervention is the appropriate intervention for the first few days, however we want that crisis intervention to be framed within a trauma informed context. Appropriate crisis intervention is designed to meet the basic needs of people in crisis and then help them discover or realize they have the strength and resilience to cope with what they have experienced. This also involves helping them regulate their emotional and physiological reactions.

The most important mindset in crisis intervention is one that is survivor focused, curious and able to shift thinking from victim to survivor thinking. When we allow what is learned about how survivors are experiencing the current experience and what matters most to them, we will succeed at helping them feel better and will promote healing.

In addition, the professional can normalize their own and others reactions, and begin to think about how to create new routines. Utilizing self-care plans like those available in Starr’s Practicing Resilience course is a great place to start!

Starr Commonwealth is currently offering both Trauma-Informed Resilient Schools (education focus) and Children of Trauma & Resilience (clinical focus) free of charge. These courses provide powerful context to trauma and toxic stress in children and how professionals can begin to help the healing process. Starr Commonwealth also offers telehealth services in the state of Michigan for anyone who may need further assistance.

What can Starr offer other clinics and agencies?

With our combined years of experience, particularly in trauma treatment, we are well equipped to assist you in your growth as a clinician. We would be happy to work with you for ongoing supervision, case consultation if working with a difficult case, or to meet the licensing requirements of the State of Michigan.

We can also provide consultation on building a trauma informed clinical program, how to select the right materials, and training to meet your or your agencies needs to best serve your clients.

Trauma work requires the clinician to be reflective and take care of oneself to prevent secondary trauma and burn out. We can support you in this! My own clinical supervision that I have continued beyond my licensing requirement is the best investment I have made in my development as a clinician, a supervisor, and now a director of behavioral health. I meet with my supervisor every other week, and she sorts out challenging cases with me, holds space for me, and offers insight and feedback on how to best supervise and support my team.

Anyone interested in consultation or supervision can contact us at

If you are interested in defusing sessions for yourself, your loved one, or your organization, please fill out this form and a Starr Behavioral Health representative will contact you shortly.


Learn more about defusing sessions through Starr


The heart rate is a large part of the physiological affect we experience, both when regulated or experiencing reactions of stress. Having awareness of our own heart rate in any of these platforms and having a practice to alter that rate can affect our experience of safety on the body level.

How can we best control our heart rates? Through breathwork!

Breathwork refers to many forms of conscious alteration of breathing, such as connecting in-breath with outbreath, or intentionally changing the pace or deepness of breath. Breathwork is something that children of all ages can learn and practice. For younger children, it is fun to use props like pinwheels and bubbles to support breathwork activities. Adolescents will enjoy learning that they can practice breathing activities without any props and without anyone knowing they are practicing!

Click below to learn more and watch Starr Senior Trainer Erin Reed demonstrate several exercises for breathwork at any age.

Learn more breathwork activities and other regulating exercises for all ages in Starr's Mind Body Skills: Activities for Emotional RegulationDownload a free sample below.

Learn more with these offerings from Starr Commonwealth

Authentic Self-Care

What is authentic self-care?

Self-care is a commonly used phrase that validates us in doing whatever we want to achieve instant gratification, even if it isn’t serving us long term. We often confuse material or external substance as self-care. Self-care is not a hedonistic blowing off of steam, but a commitment you make to yourself to nurture your body, mind, and spirit. It is not indulgence, but reflection, awareness, and commitment. I could eat chocolate cake every day and call it self-care – but would that be serving my body long term? I could buy all my favorite clothes, and call it self-care, but will this lead to my financial well-being? I could numb all of my stressful thoughts or unpleasant emotions with substance, but would that be an experience of my wholeness?

I have learned that authentic self-care requires that I dig a little deeper. Genuine self-care requires that we stay aware and be honest with ourselves about what is really nurturing. Honest reflection is essential. Sometimes this honesty in self-reflection can be difficult, even painful as we toss off old perceptions or patterns that are not supporting our wholeness. We can’t stop at bubble baths, wine, and chocolate. Authentic self-care requires that we stay true to finding what serves our completeness.

Think of how you would treat a small child, or a dear friend that you cherish. Self-care is showing up to yourself in the same way that you show up for someone that you love.

Watch below as I explore the concept of authentic self-care more in depth.

How have you prioritized self-care? Use the assessment below to find patterns or possible areas you may have ignored.

Learn more with these offerings from Starr Commonwealth

focus article by dr Caelan soma about universal needs

The Bullying Experience

You don’t have to be a victim to experience trauma. Trauma can be experienced by those who witness traumatic events. Relatives or peers of the victim are at risk as well. You can even experience trauma by listening to the details of an event on the news or by someone telling you their traumatic story. The victim, the bully, and witnesses feel the themes of trauma. Look at these common feelings experienced after traumatic events and notice the ways in which they are similar and different:

The Victim

  • Terror - Scared for one's safety/one's life.
  • Powerlessness - Unable to do or say anything to stop the current situation.
  • Hurt - Physical and emotional hurts from being bullied physically/verbally.
  • Fear - Never knowing if/when bullying is going to happen next.
  • Anger - Anger at the bully, anger at self for not being able to do anything to stop it.
  • Revenge - Wanting to "get back" at the person who bullied.
  • Victim Thinking - I am no good and nobody likes me.

The Witness

  • Terror - Scared for the victim's safety/life.
  • Powerlessness - I can't protect others, how can I protect myself?
  • Hurt - Viewing physical and emotional abuse.
  • Guilt - I'm okay but he/she is not.
  • Fear - Is it going to happen again? Could it happen to me? If I help will I be outcasted too?
  • Anger - Mad that the victim "takes it." Angry that the bully "bullies."
  • Revenge - Wanting to "get back" at the person who bullied.
  • Victim Thinking - I could be next. I'm no good for not stopping the bullying.

The Bully

  • Terror - I'm out of control.
  • Powerlessness - I can't stop what I am doing.
  • Hurt - Physical hurts from bullying behaviors.
  • Fear - I have to stick up for myself.
  • Anger - I am angry with the victim for "making me do it."
  • Victim Thinking - I'm too stupid not to fight.



The experience of bullying is often underestimated. However, brain imaging studies have documented that the intensity of the emotional pain and hurt that bullying elicits activates the same brain pathways linked to physical pain. Bullying increases rates of anxiety, depression and panic and can leave a harmful imprint on children into adulthood.

Help survivors cope, as soon as possible, after the bullying occurs. What can you do?

  • Show the child that they are not alone. Be present. You may not be able to offer them immediate solutions but listen closely to what they have experienced.
  • Normalize and validate the child’s reactions to the experience. Don’t minimize what happened. Don’t get hysterical either – remain calm and let them share their perception of the experience with you.
  • Remember, it is their experience, not yours.
  • Identify connections. Who is the child connected to at home (parents, siblings, cousins), school (peers, teachers, coaches) and in the community (neighbors, spiritual leaders, boys and girls club mentors)?
  • Create or restore identified connections to provide a sense of belonging.
  • Engage the child in activities that they enjoy and are good at to further support belonging and provide a sense of mastery of their skills.
  • Teach the child how to identify and name reactions to overwhelming feelings such as anger or sadness. Provide and practice strategies that help the child regulate these emotions.


Learn from Starr Director of Professional Training and Coaching Kathryn Hart about the most important factor for reducing bullying in schools:

To learn more about bullying and trauma, consider these offerings from Starr Commonwealth.

focus article by dr Caelan soma about universal needs

PTSD and Yoga

The experience of trauma is one of prolonged stress accompanied with worry, fear, anger, and sadness. Following trauma, memories are re-experienced in a person’s mind as images. However, they are also re-experienced as sensations in a person’s body because trauma is stored in sensory memories. The sensations experienced following trauma can be terrifying, evoking uncomfortable reactions like rapid breathing, racing heartbeat, tense muscles, and even the feeling of not being able to move at all. Trauma is overwhelming and leaves people feeling powerless and hopeless to do anything about their situation.

Yoga is a sensory-based modality that can be used as a trauma intervention activity. It provides a new experience for the traumatized person. Through deliberate breathing and body movements, yoga practice teaches traumatized individuals how to become more aware of their body’s sensations. Yoga provides an opportunity for a person to notice, tolerate, and better manage post-trauma sensations in a safe space. The practice of yoga helps to calm the central nervous system, decreasing the physiological and biochemical byproducts of stress. In addition, yoga practice is empowering. Individuals actively participate in activities that help lower stress and provide them a sense of control over their body. In yoga, the participant is invited to manipulate their breath and posture so that it is comfortable and safe. Therefore, instead of feeling stuck and helpless, yoga provides a new experience of movement and empowerment that is safe and structured.


There are plenty of mind body skills beyond yoga! Watch below as Starr Senior Trainer Erin Reed explains why any mind body strategy works.


Learn more and begin implementing mind body skills with the children you work with, as well as in your own life, with these related resources:

focus article by dr Caelan soma about universal needs

What Every Parent Needs to Know – Trauma & Dysregulation

Trauma is an overwhelming experience for children and parents. Parents want to help their traumatized children but don’t always know what they can do. Providing parents with five ways to help their traumatized children will offer them reassurance for what they are already doing and ideas for how they can do more.

1. Understand
Remind parents that trauma is like no other experience. Traumatized children may not have control over their emotions and behavior because the terror they experienced has left them feeling out of control.

2. Be Patient
Trauma destroys a child’s sense of safety and security. Children will need time to feel safe again. Be patient with regression.

3. Be Nurturing
This is an “all the cookies and milk you can eat” time. Encourage parents to spend more time with their child interacting in meaningful ways. Play games, read books, or go for a walk together.

4. Keep It Simple
A traumatized child will find it difficult to concentrate and remember even the simplest of things. Remind parents to keep things simple by saying only one or two things at a time. Visual charts of the daily schedule or tasks to be completed are helpful.

5. Normalize
Parents should reinforce their understanding that the reactions their child is experiencing are normal following this experience.


Guide parents using these reminders:

    • Be as predictable as can be in your routines at home while your child is present. Consistency helps create a sense of safety.
    • Do not show your fears and worries to your child, as this will frighten them. Talk about your fears to your spouse, friends, or trauma specialist. Bring laughter into your home. If your child sees you laugh, they will feel so much more at ease.
    • Read books to your child about others who have survived. Brave Bart is a great place to start. For teens, leave the book lying around where they can see it. If they need to, they will read it.
    • Unconditional love and acceptance is the best medicine. This is not always easy to give your child when you are angry, upset, or terrified yourself. Sometimes traumatized children simply need to release the stress created by their fears and they do this by fighting or verbally attacking. As a parent, your initial response to fighting needs to be to insure that your child is not hurt nor hurts others. Words, of course, do not cause bodily harm, even though they can be difficult to hear at times.
    • If this outburst is trauma-driven, often after this release your child will be calm and in control. This is not about a physical or verbal release, but a release of the intense stress of trauma, of trauma residue.

This is when your child needs you the most. Your child needs you to stay in control. Do not lose control, scream, or overreact. This may not be easy, but it is so important!


Learn more about dysregulation in children from Starr Commonwealth's recent roundtable discussion with Dr. Soma, President Carey, and Executive Vice President Allen:

To learn more about trauma, dysregulation, and mind body skills, consider these offerings from Starr Commonwealth.

focus article by dr Caelan soma about universal needs

Universal Needs

We've learned so much about trauma and resilience over the years. In fact, for the uninformed practitioner, the amount of information available nowadays can be daunting. So what do I talk about when I have friends or concerned parents approach me with questions about trauma or toxic stress affecting their loved ones?

It all comes back to our universal needs and the Circle of Courage®.

What are the Universal Needs according to the Circle of Courage®?

The Circle of Courage® is a model of positive youth development based on the universal principle that to be emotionally healthy all youth need a sense of belonging, mastery, independence, and generosity. This unique model integrates the cultural wisdom of tribal peoples, the practice wisdom of professional pioneers with troubled youth, and findings of modern youth development research.

  • Belonging

    • The presence of a strong sense of belonging makes young people more receptive to guidance from other community members. And, even if parents/caregivers are struggling, there are others there to help children. A sense of belonging helps children draw from a group as well as from themselves.
    • How can we connect with others?
      • Be continuously curious about how the child is experiencing their world.
      • Get to know them!
      • Find out their likes, dislikes.
      • Explore what they need most to feel supported.
  • Mastery

    • The goal of mastery is to achieve one’s potential, not perfection, and then contribute to and provide for their greater community. When success is met, the desire to achieve is strengthened.
    • How can we promote mastery?
      • Identify each child's potential.
      • Teach emotional awareness and regulation, and then practice with them.
      • Provide opportunities for students to experience their strengths.
  • Independence

    • In contrast to obedience models of discipline, teaching should be designed to build respect and teach inner-discipline. Children should be encouraged to make decisions, solve problems, show personal responsibility, and learn/practice emotional awareness and regulation. Adults can model, nurture, and guide, but children should be given opportunities to make choices without coercion.
    • How can we promote a sense of independence?
      • Provide choices.
      • Provide options.
      • Ask the child what they need the most.
  • Generosity

    • Children must be given opportunities to develop abilities for being generous and unselfish. In helping others, we create our own proof of worthiness, for we have the power to make positive contributions to the world. Children increase their sense of self-worth as they become committed to the positive value of caring for others.
    • How can we help children feel valuable?
      • Point out the child's self-worth.
      • Provide opportunities for them to experience their value when they help others!

It is important to keep in mind that children with broken circles may display distorted senses of their universal needs. For example, someone with a distorted sense of belonging may flock to gang involvement. You can learn more about distorted universal needs in the related materials below.

Unmet universal needs can be an enormous barrier to learning. At Starr, we know stressed brains can’t learn. We also have the tools and lessons to help you break through the social emotional barriers in children.

Reclaiming Youth at Risk draws on early youth-work pioneers, Native tribal wisdom, and youth development research by outlining the four essential elements every child needs in order to flourish and thrive: belonging, mastery, independence, and generosity. Together, these are known as the Circle of Courage®. This book also includes innovative approaches for building relationships with youth, fostering their self-esteem, and instilling positive values in any setting.

10 Steps to Create a Trauma-Informed School is informed by Reclaiming Youth at Risk, as well as the Circle of Courage®, and applies the teachings therein to a set of concrete steps for implementation in schools. Complete with behavior support plans, lesson examples, and resources for teachers and parents, 10 Steps is the foundation for any school seeking to establish an environment of safety and learning for all children.


Have you taken the time to consider the universal needs of each of the children you care for? What simple opportunities arise every day where we can help bolster a kid's sense of belonging, mastery, independence, or generosity? These small moments can make an incredible impact on their self-worth!


Learn more about universal needs from Starr Commonwealth's recent roundtable discussion with Dr. Soma, President Carey, and Executive Vice President Allen (Dr. Soma's co-author on 10 Steps to Create a Trauma-Informed School):

To learn more about universal needs, consider these offerings from Starr Commonwealth.

The Circle of Courage® was developed by Starr’s 2nd President, Dr. Larry K. Brendtro (PhD), and his colleagues at Augustana University.

10 Steps Every Educator Needs to Know to Create a Trauma Informed School

Learning can be a real struggle for children who have experienced a trauma. But once trauma is identified as the root of the behavior, educators can adapt their approach to help students cope when they are at school.

These steps create a blueprint for trauma informed school implementation and success. While creating a trauma informed school requires patience, with each small implementation you will see how each step complements another and you will experience significant benefits in the overall school climate. You may even see that parts of a step or even an entire step may already be in place in your classroom or school. If that is the case, celebrate and move on to the next step!

Detroit-based clinical director of The National Institute for Trauma and Loss in Children, a program of the Starr Global Learning Network, Dr. Caelan Kuban Soma, offers these steps to help school professionals put in place trauma informed strategies to help students. You can also check out our web page with all our Trauma Informed School resources.

1. Provide school-wide childhood trauma awareness and understanding of how trauma impacts children’s learning and behavior
Contrary to what many school professionals think, you do not have to be a school social worker, counselor or psychologist to provide trauma informed care and practice. Any person, regardless of their own background and role in the school setting, can help students thrive academically, behaviorally, socially and emotionally when they understand how stress and trauma influence students.

2. View trauma as an experience rather than an incident or a diagnostic category
Trauma reactions depend upon how a person experiences what happened or what is happening. Every person will have a unique response to life based upon their experiences, coping skills, characteristics of resilience and protective factors. The perception of what has happened or what is happening is more important than the actual event. Adults often assume certain events are more traumatic than other experiences. Adults may also assume that some events are just normal things every kid needs to learn how to “get through”. For example, many adults think that teasing from peers is a normal “rite of passage” instead of bullying. Remember, we cannot assume we know what is traumatizing or not traumatizing to a student. Instead, we need to be curious and ask how that particular event is affecting them.

3. Believe the link between private logic and behavior
There is a distinct link between a student’s private logic and their behavior. Private logic is described as the way a person views themselves, others and the world around them. Based on that logic they act accordingly. Think of private logic as an invisible backpack. In the backpack, a student carries around beliefs about themselves, beliefs about the adults that take care of them, beliefs about other people they interact with in their lives and beliefs about the world. This logic is a result of their experiences – both good and bad over the course of development and life. If their lives are fueled by fear, abandonment and anger, their private logic will be consistent with those experiences. They will view themselves as scared and powerless, others will not be trusted and the world to them is viewed as a scary place. If their lives are filled with comfort, connection and love, their logic will be consistent with those experiences.

4. Establish the experience of physical and emotional safety
While feeling unsafe may be accompanied by violence, it does not have to be. The experience of safety includes these characteristics:

  • Hopeful
  • Empowered
  • Choice
  • Security
  • Structure
  • Consistency

Research demonstrates that academic achievement improves in schools where students feel physically and emotionally safe. Safety is experienced when school cultures support reasonable rules that are explained clearly and enforced consistently. A healthy learning community that is physically, emotionally and intellectually safe is the foundation for a comprehensive high-quality education.

5. Foster connections
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conducted a national study of 36,000 7th to 12th grade students. School connectedness is indicated as the strongest factor for both boys and girls in preventing substance abuse, violence and absenteeism. School connectedness was the second-most important factor (after family) in helping students avoid suicide, emotional problems and eating disorders. Students who feel connected to their school are also more likely to have better academic achievement, including higher grades and test scores, have better school attendance, and stay in school longer.

6. Prioritize social and emotional skills
Not being given the opportunity and guidance to enhance social and emotional learning leaves a child with only a fraction of what is needed to grow and prosper. This includes the opportunity for socialization, especially for children who live in poverty or have experienced stressed relationships with parents and caregivers. Difficulty regulating emotions can lead to a host of problems in the school setting. Deficits in the capacity to regulate emotion are cause for serious concern, because the ability to modulate behavior, attention and emotions are the foundation for children’s adaptive functioning in three key domains: self-development, academic achievement and interpersonal relationships.

7. Promote play
A survey of nearly 2,000 educators indicated 78 percent feel students who spend regular time in unstructured outdoor play have better concentration and problem-solving capabilities and are more creative than students who do not. Many studies confirm that access to nature in schools has a positive impact on student focus and learning by improving attentiveness, test scores and performance.

8. Collaborate with families and community
The highest performing schools serving at risk children distinguish themselves by finding innovative ways to connect with parents and community partners (National Association of State Coordination of Comprehensive Education, 2006). Changes in family demographics, demands of professional workplaces and growing diversity are just a few of the reasons why schools need strong community and family partnerships. Reaching beyond school walls to provide all the support students need is essential.

9. Support staff
Distress reactions are normal. They are common for many helping professionals, including educators. Vulnerability to distress indicators increases when professionals work with children and when they have their own trauma histories. Distress is a natural consequence of caring for, listening to and helping those who experience chronic stress and trauma. So, if school professionals are committed to their work with children, they must be educated about distress indicators and if they are experiencing them, support must be prioritized.

10. Collect and share outcome data
Creating trauma informed schools is a process and outcome data helps show changes in that process. For example, if you do not have baseline data, you will not be able to see how things are changing over time as you implement new trauma informed practices.



Adapting SITCAP-ART: The Story of One Program’s Journey in Group Implementation for Transformative Results

This paper explores the adaptation of SITCAP-ART to fit needs and aptitudes of at risk adjudicated youth in a particular intensive after care program.  After describing the program, population served, and problems with prior groups, it explores the process this therapist went through to awaken to SITCAP, and how the curriculum was designed to fit our clients and program.  It specifies how we ‘sold’ the group to others, our results, outcomes, and continued challenges.  It is intended to be ‘user friendly’  in the hopes that other practitioners will learn from our experience and borrow any or all ideas for their own programs and mental health treatment services.


Our program, named Reentry Services, provides intensive after care (IAC) treatment in the form of groups, individual therapy, and case management/CPST to at-risk adjudicated youth returning to the community after a residential placement for their juvenile offenses.  The youth are court ordered to attend as part of their parole or probation terms and receive our services over a range of 4-8 months.  The majority of youth are African American from poor neighborhoods in urban Cincinnati.  They come with generational, developmental and/or complex trauma histories characterized by abuse or neglect in childhood; school behavior, truancy and academic problems; separation/abandonment from incarcerated or murdered family members, particularly fathers; poverty or financial instability; and high exposure to community violence, drugs, guns and death.   They are most frequently diagnosed with PTSD or other Trauma indicators, ADHD, Conduct Disorder (D/O), Substance Abuse D/Os (marijuana being the highest prevalence of use), and often Borderline Intelligence (from low IQ scores.)  Other common but less frequent diagnoses are: Reactive Attachment  D/O, various Mood D/Os, and Learning D/Os.  Occasionally but rarely do we have Bipolar D/O or any form of psychosis.

The youth also experience long separations from families and their communities after multiple placements that often accumulate to years, based on their repeated adjudications and probation violations.   In residential placement, they are subject to group programming developed by juvenile justice (JJ) academic organizations, with very structured curriculums that are cognitive behaviorally based to correct criminal thinking, stop substance abuse, and manage anger.  Occasionally mental health treatment is provided, and trauma specific therapy is rare.

In our phased, step down IAC program, youth typically attend 3 groups a week the first month, then step down to two for another two months, then remain with just individual therapy and case management for their last ‘phase’.  Since the program’s inception in 2009, the three groups have varied in definition and content, with titles such as ‘Community Life’, ‘Relationship Group’, and ‘Substance Abuse’ groups.   They were designed to use CBT and motivational interviewing interventions that built on the treatment concepts they learned at their placements, assisting them to internalize the skills as they transition to the community.  As one of the therapists who developed the curriculums and facilitated the groups throughout the program’s first three years, we tried an array of formats, ranging from very structured to more open, client led groups.  We learned that groups work best ‘in the middle’ of the spectrum, with enough structure to provide direction and focus, but loose enough to allow the client to engage in what we call ‘real talk’, honestly sharing about their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors since their return.  We also had some success using creative, right-brain, fun activities to keep groups interesting and dynamic, while keeping a fast pace for fidgety and easily distracted youth.

The Problem

When the youth arrive at our program, they are burnt out on groups.  They are tired of just talking and doing worksheets, with lots of rules to keep behavior in check.  Positively, they are equipped with CBT skills that they learned in placement, yet they have not been able to practice or use them in real life.  Then typically they get exposed to real life traumatic situations anew and/or triggered upon return to old environments and, alas, they are unable to use their new found CBT skills.  In other words, their prefrontal cortex is not able to work with the trauma affected, unhealed parts of the brain.  So essentially, the thinking based skills go right out the window, leaving probation officers and treatment providers baffled.  This restarts the punitive cycle, as triggered youth with no trauma healing go AWOL, commit new offenses, smoke marijuana, struggle in school, and ‘act out’ emotionally and physically.  The courts give citations and violations, or send them to new placements.  Meanwhile, we scramble to add more services, particularly high dosage of substance abuse services.  We find ourselves saying things like, ‘you had all these great goals and seemed so motivated to change, what went wrong?’  Or, ‘Why aren’t you using the skills you learned in placement?’  In other words, ‘what’s wrong with you?’

Awakening to SITCAP

I remember learning briefly about CBT trauma therapy in grad school, and felt immediately after starting work at our agency, that we were missing out on addressing trauma more directly.  Often I would debate with our service providers with long histories in juvenile justice, about the discomfort I had with not addressing feelings thoroughly enough, as this also is an important component of CBT I observed was consistently short changed.  I also read about how the JJ residential programming and our IAC model was based on the adult criminal system, which was created for anti-social adults,   emphasizing correcting anti-social beliefs and attitudes.  It was missing developmental understanding, compassion for what the youth had experienced, and was not sufficiently strength based.

It was about two years ago that I was able to attend the initial SITCAP trainings.  I remember thinking that finally, here is a model that has the right ‘lens’ for seeing and understanding our youth.  There are interventions that fit them, focusing on healing the brain and body, and addressing more than the logical, thinking part of the mind.   The whole person is addressed – mind, body, and spirit.   And the fun activities we tried to fit in awkwardly to our groups are an essential part of the healing and done with intention, leading to the CBT part of reframing the story for hope, and moving from victim to survivor.  We decided we would replace our ‘relationship group’ with a SITCAP/trauma healing group (as well as train our therapists and CM’s to incorporate SITCAP interventions in their practice, but this is not a subject of this paper.)

Big ‘Aha’

So while the overall model of SITCAP, the themes, the treatment process, and the approaches all made sense for our population, I concluded that the SITCAP-ART curriculum would not work as-is for our group.  First, the language often centered on specific traumatic events, and our youth could not identify these events, indeed they don’t think of traumatic experiences as particular events, necessarily.  This is because there are so many of them, they don’t remember them, or they don’t want to be directly asked about them.  Second, I felt the language and pictures were too young for our youth who, though may be behind in developmental maturity, talk with more mature language, and are very sensitive about being talked to like they are young.  Third, I felt the activities did not adequately reflect the black, urban culture, and that this would be key to connecting with them in a trauma group.

Thankfully, I had two ‘aha’ moments at this point.  First, our agency trainer and expert in SITCAP consulted with me, and assured me that the materials were just a starting point, and that I should find a way to adapt the materials to our youth.  This was liberating, I just didn’t know how!  The second, ‘aha’ came when I took TLC’s online course called ‘Breathe, Rock, Draw’, by Barbara Dorrington, MBSW, MEd, CTC-S. I was fascinated by how she organized and structured activities for her classroom into three areas: breathing exercises, rhythm routines, and drawing/writing.  It included positive affirmations, warm ups, and encouraged creativity in identifying the activities that could be used in the three areas.  I started to think about how the exercises energized or calmed, both types being needed by our youth, covering the range that was needed to address hypo and hyper arousal.  Thus began a kind of creative brainstorming over several weeks, laying out ideas and talking to others, until finally it hit!   We could redesign our groups to incorporate both active and calming activities, while also addressing the model themes and providing narrative reframing.

Group Redesign

We would structure our groups around these three categories:  Mellow, Move, and Make (MMM).  We would end on a positive or ‘Up’ note each group as is important for the model.  Each group would have a SITCAP theme e.g. anger, hurt, victim/survivor.  This way, we would be following the overall progression of the model which is so important to address the trauma themes and get to the narrative reframing, but also allow us to actively engage in emotional management, thereby reducing traumatic stress symptoms. We would have psychoeducation pieces to assist facilitators in being deliberate and aware in the healing work.  We would invite speakers occasionally, to bring the themes and activities to life.   We kept our group norms, but we added one to allow members to find ways to self regulate and encouraged this via the norm:  ‘Find & use what you need to stay and be part of group: mandalas, doodling, stress balls, stretching’.  See the attachments titled ‘Self Group Design: Mellow Move Make’ and ‘Self/MMM Group Introduction’ for more thorough descriptions.

We use a matrix approach by adding various activities in each of the three categories and for each theme.  This allows flexibility for the facilitators to alter activities to fit the group, and keeps the groups from getting repetitive (as some clients end up repeating groups over time).  The activities are designed to be more culturally relevant, referencing current events, contemporary African American urban culture, and common themes that reflect attitudes and beliefs we have learned over time from our youth.  See the attached group example titled ‘Self/MMM Group Example – Anger/Love.’

We also kept our Community Life CBT and AOD groups, although eventually we ‘wrapped’ SITCAP around them, and continue to evolve them this way.

The Sell

When we began using SITCAP in our agency, there were just a few of us practicing with one SITCAP experienced and certified trainer to assist as we gained practice using the tools and model in our own service areas.  Not surprisingly, we met some resistance and skepticism in the agency, as happens with new or different approaches. I particularly felt this in Juvenile Justice.  So it was important that I ‘sold’ the new group to my management in a way that assured we would be covering the critical treatment concepts, while improving the way we were doing so.

Our proposal was based on the need to solve the problem of client burnout, by creating groups that provide a new experience from what they have known.  We proposed the SITCAP approach could make groups transformational and challenging, which was everybody’s goal.  Importantly,  we were not introducing new or contrary treatment concepts, we were simply reframing  treatment concepts that we have always used, bringing them to life with SITCAP, and bringing in a couple of new concepts for trauma education and healing.  We would be improving our ability to provide a safe environment that is more resilient to negative peer influences.  By tackling exposure to traumatic events we proposed it would make it easier for the youth to make connections to their offending behaviors.    We also could finally bring in health & wellness psychoeducation for certain topic areas that had been a stretch to add in the past, like sex education and sleep hygiene, which began our foray into the mind-body work.

We vetted the group with our agency’s trauma practitioners.  We did this by having the practitioners experience being the group members, with us facilitating.  This was extremely helpful, for we got some great tips, plus it helped validate our curriculum.

Our director asked for how we could sell this to the courts, and we used this:  We teach our youth important skills while they are in their placements for their crimes.  Many accept responsibility for what they have done and want to change.  However, when they return to their stressful environments, they get triggered and/or emotionally dysregulated again.  This shuts down the thinking part of the brain, so they can’t use the skills.  We need to heal and regulate emotionally, calming down the brain, so that the CBT skills can be used and internalized.

We also used brief surveys the youth filled out for the end of the old groups and the beginning of the new, that confirmed positive trends needed to continue forward with implementation.

We were now ready for ‘prime time’, and started the groups in October, 2014.

Our Results

A year and a half under our belts, here are our key learnings from conducting our adapted SITCAP-ART group:

  • These tough, ‘street smart’ youth do the ‘corny’ sensory activities!  My biggest worry was that these young men would refuse to do the activities we offer.  However, we frame as asking, not demanding, asking that they just try or sit respectfully as others try, and explaining these are things we do ourselves that many adults do to take care of their stress.  We are constantly surprised at how courageously these youth jump in and try activities including yoga postures, breathing techniques, guided meditation, lavender sniffing, mindfulness walks, singing ‘Hallelujah’, affirmations, and Native American chants about forgiveness.


  • ‘Real talk’ has increased.  Our desire has always been to allow the youth to discuss the real problems and struggles they face upon return to the community.  However, we were afraid we were glorifying crime and violence, and would not allow talk of gangs or guns.  With the SITCAP group, we had to accept that when we ask a youth to draw about their biggest worry or fears, these things will emerge.  These are the traumatic experiences.  We had to allow them to be put on the table, and honor their realities.  We had to hear about what underlies the fatalistic attitudes and beliefs.  We became witnesses to the struggle.  So the youths drawings often show guns, contain curse words, street slang, and other disturbing things.  Many of our youth write rap or record it in studios, so we invite them to share and often it is explicit, but underneath are the message we discover together about difficult life experiences and deeper feelings, like abandonment.  We had to get over our own biases, and allow the youth to share their own interpretation of their experiences.  Of course the goal is to get to the hopeful reframing and normalizing, which we do.  But we learned to allow the time for this to happen vs. forcing it to happen on our terms.

Exposure is helpful for our youth. My prior understanding of trauma therapy was to be wary of exposure and triggering.  And we do worry, and triggering does happen.  However, it was happening anyway, because these traumatized and daily stressed youth were getting triggered all the time, including in our program, by for example, the tone of voice used by an aggressive Probation Officer in a team meeting.  Our challenge was to provide safe containment and emotional management skills to manage and reduce their trauma reactions.  Revisiting traumatic experiences was already happening sporadically in past groups, as things like shooting deaths were brought up and discussed as group members (and staff) became more comfortable.  So we came up with a safe way of initiating exposure:  displaying black and white images (from stock images on the internet), of various traumatic experiences that we had heard youth describe over the years.  See the attached ‘Self/MMM Group – Tough Times Table’ for some of the images used.  Then, when we do the ‘road map to the past’, we ask youth to visit the ‘tough times’ table and choose images that depict bad times they have experienced.  If they are not comfortable, they can choose images that others might find difficult.  This puts them in control and they don’t have to share their choices with the group unless they want to.  We found with this technique, more traumatic experiences are revealed than we had ever heard in the prior 3 years of groups, particularly bullying and domestic violence.


  • A trauma informed environment is needed.  From the beginning, we designed various sensory elements into our program’s environment, like cooling wall color, welcoming décor and art, aromatherapy, and youth’s mandalas on the walls.  We try to surround youth and staff with an array of sensory stimuli and activities, such as comforting food, music, hand ‘fiddles’, games, and multi-media technology. We created a relaxation room for therapy and ‘chilling’ when clients need it.  We also are more attuned and aware of triggering to be able to proactively help youth anticipate and manage feelings and behaviors as they emerge.  We are more often checking in on the body and reminding them of their emotional management tools, thereby promoting  a sense of safety.


  • The walls of anger come down.  I used to hear, ‘I don’t care’, ‘I don’t have feelings’, or ‘my only feeling is anger.’  Conversation was dominated by prison and ‘street’ talk.  We thought that these youth were emotionally incapable of empathy.  This was incorrect, we just weren’t finding ways to open up the other emotions.  Now I hear, ‘I am a loving person’, ‘I am glad to be alive’, ‘I am afraid of these streets’, ‘I worry that I won’t be able to get out of my hood and make it’.  We could never get the youth to acknowledge fear previously, and now it is sometimes said, and often depicted in drawing, etc.  The sources of anger are also more apparent.  For example, feelings about racism, oppression, conspiracy theories, and cultural taboos, are more explored and debated.  Feelings allow these youth to debate and discuss their opinions in a deeper way with each other than before.  We have even been able to discuss spirituality more.  One group ended with a youth who insisted, after getting permission from the group, in leading an affirmative prayer for all members.


  • There is more safety and trust.  You can feel it.  This is subjective for us as we do not measure this directly.  Beyond the improved outcomes, there is a sense that permeates the program that youth are more relaxed, less apt to lash out in anger, more able to focus, get to the ‘real talk’ and, essentially, show their vulnerability.  This affects the staff as well, creating a greater sense of safety, reducing vicarious trauma.  There is a greater use of humor and a sense of fun.  As a result, some of our toughest youth continue to come for services, even when they are confronting death of peers, revenge urges, and drug relapses.


Youth are completing the program more successfully, in terms of mental health improvements, getting off of parole/probation, and making gains in life domains, such as education and employment.  Our biggest testament is that we have more youth who don’t want to leave our services when they have completed the program.  And more come back after they are done with services to attend our prosocial activities or just visit. Our program implemented outcomes tracking after the start of SITCAP, and we made several program improvements (like adding prosocial events and job readiness groups) that make it difficult to isolate the impact of SITCAP.  However, we know that the CANS (Comprehensive Needs & Strengths Assessment) outcome tool we use at our agency indicates that we have been consistently reducing needs and increasing strengths for the youth who receive SITCAP interventions (group and individual therapy).  We are currently in the process of adding modules to our outcome tool so that we can measure post traumatic symptom changes.


Not everything we set out to implement has happened, and there are still areas we continue to struggle.  Here are the challenges and where appropriate, plans to improve:

  • We are not getting to the narrative, at least not directly.  It has been difficult for us to be disciplined about saving client’s work from group and individuals, taking pictures of things that cannot be saved (like clay sculpture).  We get behind and then we end up with a pile of drawings, poems and pictures that are not organized.  Individual therapists reframe and discuss the narrative sporadically, but not in a direct, deliberate way.  In other words, we are not getting to the ‘story’ as we set out to do in our group design. The one time I was able to do this more directly, however, the results were impactful, so we need to strive for this.  Our plan is to get there is two-fold: 1) implement ways to make it easier for us to save and use the work; and 2) do more direct psychoeducation and expectations setting with treatment teams (clients, families and the courts) to lay out the model in user-friendly terms.  We are currently developing a set of handouts for clinicians to use during intake and initial services.


  • Therapists are not always comfortable with the mind-body work.  It was relatively easy for me to begin using various mind-body and other sensory interventions with clients as I am an artist, and practice yoga and mindfulness already.  It was a challenge for me to adapt the practices to our adolescents, but it was just a matter of jumping in and finding the right language.  I built the interventions into the group curriculum and then taught them to my co-facilitators over time.  However, some therapists are simply more comfortable with talk therapy, and do not have the aptitude for the sensory interventions.  For example, in group, I find I am leading guided meditation as I am more comfortable and experienced doing so.  To continue moving forward, I am encouraging our clinicians to develop their own experiences and practices so that they can empower our youth to use these skills based on their own practice of the mind-body activities.  I also would like to develop a half day training focused on mind-body activity learning and practice.


  • Triggering, dysregulation, and victim problems still occur.  Our highly traumatized youth continue to have post traumatic stress behaviors and attitudes that disrupt and derail groups.  Part of this is the nature of rotating member groups, which is the way our program operates.  There have been many times that group is feeling safe, cohesive, and engaged in the activities, but then a new member appears and we destabilize into chaos.  Or a traumatizing event happens to a stable individual and he has a setback.  A hypo-aroused, dysregulated group member can disrupt and interrupt everyone.  If the group members aren’t able to resist, they all get that way.  Alternatively, if we get a strong leader personality that is highly traumatized and anti-social, others get intimidated and fearful, and we don’t get to the ‘real talk’.  Members suddenly begin to dredge up ‘criminally minded’ beliefs and engage in ‘street talk.’  Others disengage completely or lapse into generalized ‘treatment talk’.  Sometimes an especially vulnerable youth is alienated by the group.  Our solution as facilitators is to step back and focus on the group process of building cohesion, and the curriculum frankly, becomes secondary.  An idea we have considered is to create a separate step down group for those ready for survivor/thriver and narrative reframing.  However, we don’t have the staff or youth numbers needed to set up this group.


  • Keeping sensory and self regulation materials stocked is not easy.  We try to keep our supplies stocked, but things disappear or get destroyed. ‘Finger fidgets’ get deflated, objects break, silly putty goes missing, food gets spilled and wasted, markers dry out.  I don’t think our youth are intentionally ruining, but these high energy, stressed out young men are especially hard on things!  It’s hard to find time then to get to the dollar and craft stores to keep up with replenishing our materials.  And like most non-profit agencies, we have budget constraints.  It has helped to bring in outside guests to lead creative activities, as they bring supplies that we reimburse.  However, this takes planning and logistics to arrange, and it has been difficult to find guests that can handle our youth in a trauma informed manner and be reliable.


After running our adapted SITCAP-ART groups for nearly a year and a half, we have learned a lot about how to engage our youth in the trauma work, that is such a critical part of their mental health and life functioning.  The work is exciting and challenging.  However, I believe we are about halfway to where we could be in service delivery and the organizational commitment to trauma informed care.  There are so many opportunities left for us to improve our trauma sensory interventions, deliver more components of the model, and to create a safe, trauma-informed environment.  As a supervisor and therapist, my passion is to continue training, influencing and encouraging those within our agency, our partners, and the broader community to embrace sensory based trauma healing.



Self Group Design:  ‘Mellow Move Make’


  1. Review group norms & last week’s group
  2. Prosocial news & Announcements
  3. Topic of the day: Write on the board
  4. Mellow – relaxation exercise
  5. Move – physical activity (walk, get up and do something, role play)
  6. Make – draw, write, listen, create something related to topic of the day
  7. Review of group

By the end of this group, members will:

  • Reduce trauma symptoms
  • Reframe their story in a positive, healing way
  • Be less stressed, more motivated and hopeful about life
  • Manage emotions better  and able to feel & express healthier emotions

Topics:  seven that rotate and new member can enter at any time +  2 to 3 speakers/activities

  • Anger/Love
  • Worry/Fun
  • Guilt/Freedom
  • Reactions/control
  • Victim/Survivor
  • Hurt/Caring
  • Values & ID

Speaker 1x/month – stories of transformation – volunteers from the community to do ‘art’ projects.

My story: 15 minute presentation  in any group, after member completes the six. Can be done in individual therapy as an option.  Creations from each group (and individuals) are building the story.  Member works with therapist to review and assemble,  maybe put together into 1 story.  Options to convey:  graphic novel, self portrait, poem, etc.

Group structure: Every group goes through Mellow, Move, Make, and ends on Up note.  Psychoed (PE) is used to make connections at end and review before next group.  These ‘buckets’ can be reordered for flow.   Most groups have a second set of M’s for a different concept so there is plenty to fill up a group.  If not all are addressed, make sure we end on an Up.

Facilitation: Content of each agenda item are color coded (PE orange, Think yellow, Feel blue, Act red, Up green) on index cards to allow a less intrusive and more natural facilitation of group.  Content is short as it assumes facilitators are well versed and skilled at bringing the treatment concepts to life in group.  Allows containment and structure for safety and interaction by being less scripted and less rigid in format.  Also, allows group to create the pace and go deep if it can, or move on more quickly if the group is not ready or able to (which happens with unsafe or new/forming groups). Question using TLC/SITCAP method – third person, not interpreting.  Remember, the trauma healing and emotional regulation may be happening without verbalization, as it is happening with the sensory activities.

Self/MMM Group Introduction

Why this group: Young men who have a past with juvenile crimes and placements usually have had a tough life.  This group is about respecting your tough life, because it helps to move forward.  For some, there has been a lot of trauma*, and this group helps with that as well.

Goals of Group: Be heard & understood on your own terms. Handle your emotions (e.g. anger) and stress better.  Be more motivated and excited about life. Learn more about yourself and who you want to be.

What you should expect: There is less thinking and more doing.  The skills taught happen as part of the group work. Sometimes we get corny.  If you have an open mind and work at it, you will have a different experience than other groups.

Presenting your story:  You will put your work in a folder with your name on it so you can remember everything you created in group.  We will take pictures of those things that you can’t keep or put in the folder e.g. clay, pictures from tables.  You will be asked to present your ‘story’ by the last group (11 groups).  Your  folder will help you do this.

*About Trauma

A traumatic event is when something frightening or dangerous happens and the person doesn’t have control over it.  Examples: death, abuse, neglect, car crash, parents separate; family member leaves; shooting; bullying.  Even if the person was responsible, you can you still feel bad afterwards and it can affect you.  Also includes stressful life situations, like not having enough to eat, moving all the time, changing caregivers, a parent with addiction, homelessness.


It becomes trauma for a person when the brain and body get stuck in defense mode, still reacting as if there is danger, long after the event is over.  This is because hormones get released when the senses (hear, see, touch, smell) get triggered by cues from the past.  The body believes it is still in danger, even if our thinking tells us otherwise.  Over a really long time, we believe that danger is everywhere.  No one can be trusted.   Life is hopeless.

Drawing: However you draw is fine as this is not about skills at drawing, but helping to tell a story or get across your feelings in a different way than just talk.  A picture tells a thousand words.  Here are some drawings by other teens who agreed to allow us to share their drawings with others.  You can see there are rough sketches and stick figures.

Bullseye of sharing: You may want to start out less personal – movies, books, stories, your imagination – to do an activity.  Over time as you get more comfortable, we see people do more about themselves and their own experiences.  We expect this.  It means if you are new, you may be surprised at how much people are sharing.  If you have been here awhile, you may remember where you started.  We are all in different places with our stories and that is ok.

Choice: you can decide not to do something.  It is up to you.  We ask that you just tell the group this, then you can sit quietly.

Self/MMM Group Example – Anger/Love


Mellow –

  1. First rate anger 1-10 to yourself.  Guide through a progressive muscle relaxation.  This is a great way to relax before going to sleep, especially when your body is still keyed up.


Make –

  1. Visit the ‘tough times’ table.  Pick images that make you angry and bring to table.  There is also clay in front of you, as a way to take our anger out safely.  Tell us what you are comfortable sharing about your pictures.  May we ask questions (use third person)?


Move –

  1. Make a list of ‘Things that Tick me Off’ (what you are most angry, frustrated, annoyed, impatient).  Take pictures. Stand up. Tear up at least 20 times. Rate anger 1-10.


Up –

  1. Video Spokenword about anger & frustration with the world, and a return to hope and self via LOVE. Rate anger 1-10.  Take pictures of clay.


Make –

2.Listen to 1st half of video interview from Enquirer article ‘Avondale: breaking the cycle of revenge’.  Comments, what can you relate to?  Remind of clay.


Move –

  1. Get up and write some graffiti on the board about your feelings of revenge.  Any comments?


Mellow –

  1. This is a meditation to let go of revenge.  Imagine the target of your anger or revenge:  Now a white light covers this person/thing so you no longer can see them.  You are now by yourself, and free of that person/thing.  Let yourself feel your own freedom.  Let yourself be surrounded by white light, and love.


Up –

2.Play second half of video ‘Avondale: breaking cycle of revenge’ about positive mindset and life changes


Psych Ed –

Anger is about feeling someone or something of value has been taken from you.  Can be from any kind of loss – death, your childhood, trust in others.  Can also come from being treated unfair, not having enough, feeling a lack of power & control. Sometimes it is about covering up other emotions:  acting tough vs fearful, proving not weak, surviving.  Problem is it’s like a bottle of pop. If builds up, explodes.  If numb out, goes flat. Want to ease it off.

Self/MMM Group – ‘Tough Times’ Table

Self-Care & Creativity in the Trauma-Informed Workplace

Self-care in relationship to trauma work is an essential practice for professionals in this helping field. Without attention and connection to our own self-care, the demanding toll of aiding and supporting others in pain and distress can often leave us vulnerable to compassion fatigue, vicarious trauma and burnout. In relationship to this necessity for provider self-care, this post will focus on considerations about one’s workplace environment and the role creativity can have as a trauma-informed practice.

Laura van Dernoot Lipsky, (2009), who is author of “Trauma Stewardship: An Everyday Guide to Caring for Self While Caring for Others,” identified 16 Trauma Exposure Responses that can manifest within trauma workers “as a result of exposure to the suffering of other living beings or the planet,” (p. 41). These responses can range from, but are not limited to, feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, experiencing pervasive exhaustion, an increasing incapability for empathy, and struggling with states of guilt, numbing, anger, and fear (Lipsky, 2009).

Experiencing minimized creativity in our work is also identified as a trauma-exposure response and also worth paying attention to. Using our sense of creativity in the work we do as trauma specialists is a critical, as it helps us be open to and see new ideas or solutions that can empower problem solving, growth and different ways to view situations, tasks and challenging issues with clients, co-workers and ourselves. In addition, when trauma exposure limits our ability to embrace the fresh air that creative thinking can breathe into our work, our efforts to help others may eventually feel immobilized without meaning, hope or new possibility. We also may become apathetic to working within systems, strategies and approaches that do not nurture professional growth, invite opportunities for change, or best serve the client’s needs and trauma recovery.

To support the value of creativity within the workplace, as well as offer one way to foster a healthy safeguard to decreasing the effects of trauma exposure and stress, here are some suggestions to consider implementing into your work practice and setting:

    Be mindful of the physical environment around your workspace and/or agency and how you could invite more joy, fun and creativity through the use of color, scents, sound, lighting and other sensory-based incentives. Some examples are adding a favorite, comforting piece of art, nature inspired items, plugging in a lavender air freshener, or a cheerful lamp to brighten the space.
  • Create a box or basket that includes easy, go-to comfort care items that help you engage in playfulness, relaxation, and re-energizing.
  • Establish a mandala coloring area in your staff break room or kitchen with colored pencils, gel pens or markers that you and your co-workers can use for a creative break. Print Mandalas is an online site where a variety of mandala coloring pages can be printed for free.
  • Include creativity into your agency’s staff meetings by beginning with a meaningful poem, song, story or image that relates to the organization’s values and mission. Invite staff members to take turns being responsible for this activity.
  • Support your co-workers and staff through making artsy notes of gratitude, affirmation or inspiring quotes on sticky notes and index cards to leave in workspaces or mailboxes. Use stickers, a magazine photo collage, and simple art materials to leave an expression of your appreciation, support or just for a creative hello. You could even institute an agency-wide event dedicated to this practice! Connection and encouragement from those we work with helps foster emotional resiliency and better manage work stress. Recognizing the challenges, achievements and commitment to our work in this tangible, creative form reminds us that our efforts do make a difference and have purpose.

Lipsky, L. V. N. (2009). Trauma Stewardship: An Everyday
Guide to Caring for Self While Caring for Others. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler.

Treating Trauma: Self-care for Providers
International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies

Self Care for Providers
SAMHSA’s Homelessness Resource Center

Self Care and Trauma Work
Office on Violence Against Women, National Sexual Violence Resource Center and National Sexual Assault Coalition Resource Sharing Project

Transforming Compassion Fatigue into Compassion Satisfaction
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Structured Sensory Interventions for Traumatized Children, Adolescents and Parents: SITCAP in Action

Since 1990, the National Institute for Trauma and Loss in Children (TLC) has pioneered strength-based, resilience-focused interventions with young people. As a core piece of these interventions, the helping adult becomes a witness seeking to understand the deeply painful experiences of traumatized children. How traumatized youth interpret themselves, their interactions with others, and their environment guide treatment. We often hear traumatized youth say:

If you don’t think what I think… feel what I feel… experience what I experience… see what I see when I look at myself, others, and the world around me… how can you possibly know what is best for me?

Childhood trauma is marked by an overwhelming sense of terror and powerlessness (Steele & Kuban, 2013). Loss of loving relationships is yet another type of trauma that produces the pain of sadness and grief. The resulting symptoms only reflect the neurological, biological, and emotional coping systems mobilized in the struggle to survive. Young people need new strategies for moving beyond past trauma, regulating emotions, and coping with future challenges.

Neuroscience confirms that trauma is experienced in the deep affective and survival areas of the brain where there are only sensations, emotionally conditioned memories, and visual images (Levine & Kline, 2008; Perry, 2009; van der Kolk, 2006). These define how traumatized youth view themselves and the terrifying world around them. Reason, language, and logic needed to make sense of past experiences are upper brain cognitive functions that are difficult to access in trauma (Levine & Kline, 2008; Perry, 2009; van der Kolk, 2006). This explains the limitation of traditional talk therapy or narrowly cognitive interventions. Therefore TLC’s Structured Sensory Interventions for Traumatized Children, Adolescents and Parents (SITCAP) starts with the lived experience of youth which drives their behavior.

SITCAP provides the opportunity to safely revisit and rework past trauma, beginning with sensory memories which youth have experienced and stored. Trauma-related symptoms can be reduced and resilience strengthened to support post-traumatic growth as youth engage in SITCAP (Steele & Kuban, 2013). The process is designed to support safety, emotional regulation, and empowerment.

With the adult as a curious witness, youth are able to take the lead and set the pace of intervention. They are giving permission to say “yes” or “no” to whatever they are asked to talk about and discover that saying “no” is honored. This genuine interest is essential to allow the youth to experience the intervention as safe and the practitioner as trustworthy. Their safety remains the primary focus. The SITCAP process helps youth identify ways their body responds to stress. Young people recognize how post-traumatic memories can be activated by current events and learn to “resource” their body to regulate their reactions.

Read more about SITCAP in action here.

School Memorials

School Memorials: Should We? How Should We?

Several students die in an “active shooter” situation or as the result of a major car accident. The school erects a permanent memorial for these students. Months later, another student dies. Should this student be included in the permanent memorial or should another memorial be created? Within the next two years fourteen more students die. Some die by violent means, others by non-violent means. Some are well liked; others are not at all liked. What should you do regarding their inclusion in the memorial?

Many administrators at schools where permanent memorials have existed for a few years are now realizing that the immediate and long-term issues they present can be larger than administrative parameters, responsibilities, and resources of their schools. Just a few of the difficult challenges include, but are not limited to the following: student and staff deaths, the causes and circumstances of their deaths, variations in their status, variations in cultural views and customs, size and location of the memorial, politically and economically influential parents who want something different for their child, and resources needed to maintain these memorials.

The only nationwide consensus regarding establishing memorials and memorial services in schools following student suicides is that memorials are not appropriate. Most accept and understand that memorializing a student who takes his/her own life communicates to those predisposed to suicide, “If you want to get noticed, kill yourself” ( , Media Guidelines for Reporting on Suicide)

Beyond suicide there is no consensus about memorials. In fact, there are a wide variety of opinions and practices. These range from creating garden memorials on school property to restricting memorials to a specific time frame, size of lettering on memorial plaques to varied yearbook practices. Some policies basically say that each situation will be studied at the time and decisions made by a cross section of school representatives.”

Healing garden memorials themselves are quite varied. At Rancho Cucamonga High in California (Torrejon, 2004), rose bushes and plaques identify deceased students. Santana High School in San Diego, California (Torrejon, 2004) created a healing garden to remember what happened and “the sanctity of human life.” Some gardens honor staff. The Ashland High School (Torrejon, 2004) garden has only one plaque to honor all the students. The school did not want to start listing names fearing it would leave students wondering who would be next. Another variation is the “remembrance garden” at Lewiston High School in Maine (Torrejon, 2004) which uses bricks to identify retired staff and others who wished to be remembered for various reasons.

Memorial web sites, often designed by students, are on the rise. More often student memorials are quickly created at student lockers, parking spaces, and other areas on school property. Some districts allow memorial plaques but determine the size of the plaque as well as the size of lettering on it. There are different practices related to yearbooks; some allow poems, student letters and photos while others have a memorial page listing no more than the names of those who died. Still other schools identify the foundations that can receive memorial donations or those materials that can be purchased with donations in memory of the deceased. Recently, students are coming to school wearing T-shirts with their peer’s picture and often words on the back.

There is a general consensus that memorials provide an avenue for healing, a place to visit (National Association for School Counseling, 2004, People can come together to support one another as well express their feelings in a supportive environment. Given the acceptance that memorials serve a beneficial purpose for most, the question still remains, “Do memorials belong in schools?”

Are School Memorials Appropriate?

Should memorials, other than for suicide, be created within schools? And if so, what guidelines should be considered? To partially answer these questions it is necessary to understand the nature of trauma and, specifically, issues of exposure, as both influence guidelines for memorials.

Any situation that results in a desire to create a memorial is likely to be traumatizing for some students as well as staff (Steele & Raider, 2001). Abundant research describes the many child and adolescent manifestations of trauma (Pynoos, 1988, van der Kolk, 1996). The area of concern associated with memorials is that which deals with exposure and arousal, also referred to as “activation.”

Trauma is a state of terror in which victims feel unsafe and powerless to do anything about their situation (Steele & Raider, 2001). Trauma is also accompanied by worry; often worry about “it” happening again and “will I be next?” Arousal is a psycho-physiological and neurological state of readiness for the “next time.” Physical proximity to the actual location of the tragedy and or to visual reminders activate the arousal response (van der kolk, 1996; Rothchild, 2000). Memorials, although beneficial for many, are also activating for many, especially those already vulnerable due to their own personal trauma experiences. This constitutes a significant number of students in any facility.

Memorials can be activating because of the simple fact that they provide an ongoing visual reminder of what happened. Arousal can also lead to a decrease in cognitive function, the ability to attend, focus, retain and recall, and the ability to process information– primary learning functions. Furthermore, prolonged arousal also leads to aggressive, assaultive behaviors. From this perspective memorials in the school or on school property do pose a risk for many simply because in this “closed” environment it becomes almost impossible for students to avoid the physical reminders. There is no choice. Memorials need to be an opportunity of choice, as we all grieve differently. For some, it is healthier not to be reminded.

The concept of “exposure” or physical proximity to reminders is supported by many years of research, The memorials need to be moved out of the school environment into the community where they can either be easily accessed by those who need their comfort and benefits or easily avoided by those who are activated by the “reminders.” Community memorials provide the same benefits as school memorials while avoiding the many conflicts and challenges created when erected in closed environments such as schools.

Long-Term Complications

Where will the resources come from to maintain the memorial, especially the larger memorials, like gardens? How large will the memorials be allowed to grow? In reality, many deaths can occur within a few years. From 1996 through 2003, Slippery Rock High School in the Pittsburg, Pennsylvania area experienced 23 tragic student deaths (Clark & Woodall, 2004). The numbers can grow quite rapidly. Do you really want students to be reminded daily of how many have died? What if the memorial or parts of that memorial are destroyed? Not all students will react favorably to memorials created for an individual student and vandalism can occur.

Once the practice of creating a permanent memorial begins, how will the school respond to the politically and economically influential parents in the community who insist that their child be given a separate memorial? Are schools prepared to respond to the friends and families of students with much less status or those who have been disruptive students? Sometimes people will question the value of including a “less desirable” student to the memorial. Who is going to make the value judgment as to who is included and who is excluded? Should exceptions be made for different students or different situations? School boards do fluctuate and make exceptions to the rules. (see , Student Press Law Center.)


If memorials can be a beneficial healing experience for some, while an activating experience for others, what is recommended? Many students do need that opportunity to express themselves, feel connected to others, and to let others know the value their friend brought to their lives. However, others need not be reminded. We each need to grieve in our own way, to do what is most helpful for us individually.
Based upon the knowledge of traumatic exposure as well as the complexity of school systems and school populations, it is recommend that schools do not create permanent memorials of any kind, but do in fact, look to the larger community to make the memorial a community memorial. Community memorials, such as healing gardens, mosaic tile walkways and walls, sculptured works created to represent the spirit of the deceased or the value of life, certainly are beneficial for many. Being in the community, however, the choice to visit or avoid is retained. Community memorials allow for not just students t be remembered, but staff, families and all members of that community who suffered a tragic or untimely death, as well as those who made noteworthy contributions.


Following are several guidelines based upon what is known about exposure to reminders. These practices can help those who are grieving and fulfill their need to “do something” to express themselves to others.

Memorials Can Be Temporary
A temporary memorial is one that can provide students the opportunity to express themselves and to give testimony to their peers, as well as learn how to also direct their generosity to surviving family members. The opportunity to participate in temporary activities and projects can help them come to accept the finality of their loss. Temporary memorials are very important to healing and do not create the significant problems and challenges of permanent memorials in schools. An initial memorial site where students and staff can place flowers, poems, pictures, and teddy bears, can be located in an area where those who wish not to be reminded can easily avoid that location, while others have easy access. However, it is to be temporary. A natural time to remove the materials is often following the funeral, but do so in a formal way that leads to the presentation of all these symbols of caring to the family. This provides students the opportunity to experience the tremendous help they can be to grieving family members. This is a wonderful “teachable moment” and completes the need most of us have to feel as if we have done something helpful and meaningful.

T-Shirts Picturing the Deceased
T-Shirts with a picture of the deceased student or students is a memorial itself, but one that also needs to be time limited. T-shirts are another way for students to express themselves, but because they are visible to many, some may become activated by this visual. Students wearing memorial T-shirts will need help in channeling their need to be visible and publicly associated with the deceased student. Involving these students in activities that fulfill this need, helps to diminishing the need to wear the T-shirt. Students can write notes and cards to family members for formal presentation or, better yet, be given the opportunity to meet with the family to directly communicate their thoughts and feelings to the family. They can help establish a drive to raise monies for the school foundation in memory of their friend. Depending upon the nature of the death they could organize efforts to develop recommendations related to prevention of such deaths. They could be invited by the crisis team of that school district to contribute their suggestions as to what was or would be more helpful should such a situation happen in the future. However, at some point the wearing of t-shirts, which is not part of the dress code for many schools, must end. It will be much easier if students have been involved in other related activities as well as educated to be sensitive to the way their tribute can be difficult for others. This too is a teachable moment regarding consideration for others.

The Need to Do Something
In the numerous articles about memorials posted on the Internet, not one discusses the conflict between staff and students that can be created in the first few weeks after a death, especially when administrators face the difficult challenge of saying “no” to specific behaviors and desires of students. Problems most frequently emerge when the student’s need to do something is not channeled into activities that become meaningful for family survivors, when students are not participants in determining how best to show support during memorial services. Students who continue to challenge school policy regarding memorials often have other personal issues triggered by the death of their friend. Some may need further intervention. Maintaining a dialogue and attempts to reach agreeable solutions becomes another “teachable opportunity” to develop supportive relationships with these students. Providing a range of activities for students retains their need for choice provides experiences they may not otherwise have been able to provide themselves, and communicates administrative/system support of their need to grieve and to somehow find a way to manage the wide range of emotions they experience.

School Newspapers
School newspapers can be considered a temporary memorial. Students will expect to read about that student(s), what happened and what others have to say about the student and, in some cases, the circumstances of the death. We recommend that the guidelines established by the American Association of Suicidology regarding the reporting of a suicide be followed ( These guidelines are based upon well-documented research related to contagion and the modeling of that suicide act in order to be also publicly acknowledged. This is a difficult task for editors who must find a balance between what is helpful and what becomes a glorification. Highlighting the values the student communicated or lived by, their favorite activities and songs, but most importantly why they will be missed, constitute responsible, helpful information for those who are closest to the student. After articles in the student newspaper have been published, bring students together to discuss their thoughts, their responses, what they liked or did not like about what they read. Again, involving the students helps to defuse otherwise intense reactions. Students certainly could be asked to submit their thoughts in writing to the newspaper staff before and after, as students often identify life issues that are important, do have merit and deserve consideration.

School Foundations
We recommend schools establish a school-based foundation that families and students can contribute to for the purpose of funding specialized programs, services, in-service trainings, materials, and equipment. Attention therefore, is not on any one single family, student, or staff person. Foundation contributors can be listed in the yearbook and school newsletters. Materials, services, programs, etc. that are made possible through this funding can be acknowledged with, “This equipment was made possible from the families, businesses, and benefactors in our community.”

Memorial Services
Again, it is important to involve students in the planning of memorial services when such services allow for student participation. Some students will not want to attend services. They need to be provided alternative activities. Use symbols of life that deliver positive messages and hope. Music, balloons, and candles can all be effective in focusing on our ability and strength to survive painful experiences. It is recommended that memorial services are not conducted in the school but again, at a community facility such as a church. In some communities the school gym or auditorium is the only facility large enough to hold a large group. Should the decision be made to use the school, schools should not allow media coverage. Administrators have no control over what reporters decide to communicate. Most administrators who have allowed the media to attend have regretted it. Speeches, testimonials, music, poems, and other performances, need to be previewed and approved. This necessitates that several staff and crisis team members work with the students as they prepare. Conflict can arise regarding the appropriateness of some of their material, and what they wish to do. It must be brought to their attention that their message could have an impact on the larger student population.

Following any memorial service students need to have the opportunity to talk about their thoughts and reactions one more time. This is also a time for crisis team members to normalize their reactions and talk a bit about what life will be like without their best friend. Let them know healing will take time and, should they need to just sit and talk in the future, team members will be available. Above all, those students closest to the deceased will need permission to laugh and enjoy themselves in the weeks and months to come without guilt, acknowledging that real friends want the best for one another.


There are a number of articles written about the benefits of a community memorial. The Oklahoma Memorial is somber yet a beautiful testimony to those who were killed in the bombing of the Federal Building. It certainly helps families to give some meaning to the senseless death of their loved ones. Memorials in the community simply do not present the problems such memorials in closed environments, like schools, present. When a student is allowed to speak to other students or at a school assembly problems can arise because of the diverse yet closed assembly. When that same student presents the same message in a community setting open to others to attend, the message will be heard and reacted to quite differently.

Unfortunately, there is no long-term research on the impact permanent school memorials have on its population, on its constantly changing population. However, the anecdotal information from those who have dealt with problems they never anticipated when that permanent memorial was approved does, and should, cause concern. We know that because of the disturbing effects of exposure to ongoing reminders that rethinking permanent memorials in schools is necessary.

Memorials can be very beneficial, but for some they can be very activating. Anyone who needs to, should be allowed to easily avoid the unwanted memories and fears memorials can trigger. Most school memorials today are impossible to easily avoid. In contrast, community memorials are much easier to avoid. Temporary memorials are helpful and appropriate but must be time-limited and removed from the school. Students must be involved in the planning of memorial services and activities and ultimately these students and their activities need to be directed at supporting the family of the deceased student. The nature of the death can be the beginning of efforts and campaigns to prevent similar deaths. Moments of silence are appropriate and, when death impacts a large part of the student body, a brief reminder and moment of silence on the anniversary of that death is appropriate.

Editor’s note: Should you have specific questions suggestions, guidelines that work for you, please call, email, or write the National Institute for Trauma and Loss in Children. Since 1990, the National Institute has trained well over 60,000 educators and members of crisis teams in schools across the country and have received feedback of hundreds of schools and thousands of school personnel who have struggled with the challenges that permanent memorials can create. Obviously, in an increasingly diverse world guidelines must remain flexible, yet preventative of further traumatization. Thoughts, information you pass on to the National Institute will be passed on to others by regularly updating this article. TLC can be contacted toll-free at 1-800-837-5591 or by email at


American Foundation for Suicide Prevention 1-888-333-AFSP

American Association of Suicidology 202-237-2280

Clark, V. & Woodall, M., Philadelphia Inquirer, April 1, 2004, Young lives, violent deaths.

Pynoos, R. & Eth, (1988) Psychological first aid and treatment approach to children Exposed to community violence: research Implications. Journal of Traumatic Stress, I, 445-473.

Rothschild, B, (2000) The body remembers, New York: W.W. Norton

Torrejon, V. 2004 High Schools Create ‘Grieving Gardens’. May 10, 200-4:51pm

Van der Kolk, B. McFarlane, A. & Weisaeth, L. (1996) (Eds). Traumatic stress disorder: the effects overwhelming experience on mind, body, and society: New York: Guilford.

Winter 1998-99-High School Censorship: Yearbook Memorial approved after controversy, vol xx, no. 1 – pg 13. Student Press Law Center.

Support Needed for Children Losing Parent at Early Age

A study exploring the impact of early parental death has revealed the long-term damage and suffering that can be experienced by individuals in adult life if appropriate levels of support are not provided at the time of bereavement. The new research, published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, describes the low self-esteem, loneliness, isolation and inability to express feelings of some individuals who lost a parent in childhood, with the effects felt for as long as 71 years after the bereavement.

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Recon Mission: Familiarizing Veterans with Their Changed Emotional Landscape Through Poetry Therapy

Trauma needs containment and recognition in order to be handled, and this project enabled the soldier to do both through the use of writing and poetry. This paper is based on the qualitative findings of an 18-month long poetry therapy group conducted in a veteran’s center, and follows the progress of the veterans as they learned to use writing and poetry to focus on the present and reconnect to a broad spectrum of emotions they had been trained to suppress. The paper describes the theory behind the exercises and their impact on the veterans.

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The Importance of Receiving Help – and How To Ask For It

Sometimes the act of asking for help can be more difficult than just doing the task yourself. Military families are not strangers to adjusting family roles and taking on extra responsibilities, especially during times of deployment. Asking for help and allowing yourself to receive help can be two of the most challenging aspects of adjusting your life while your soldier is deployed. There are several reasons why it is important to share your burdens, and ways to go about it that won’t leave you feeling helpless or alone.

Why Accept Help?

Whether you are the spouse, sibling, child, or parent of a soldier, your life alters when your soldier is deployed. The contributions your soldier would typically make at home, both tangible and emotional, can’t easily be replaced. However, allowing those around you to help you not only eases your responsibility load, but it can give someone who is helping a feeling of contributing to more than just your family. For those people without loved ones in the military, assisting those who do have soldiers in their lives can be one way they are able to support military families and the troops. Perhaps one of the biggest reasons of all, though, why accepting help is a positive thing, is that it will give peace of mind to your soldier to know that you are not alone and that you are supported.

How Can You Ask for Help and Receive It?

First and foremost, don’t just dismiss offers of help or generosity. You don’t need to accept on the spot, but you can let the person know that you appreciate the kindness and that there might be a time in the future when you need the help. You can even ask what the best way is to get ahold of them – phone, email, or other – so that if the need arises you have some way of reaching them and accepting help.

When someone says, “Let me know if there is anything I can do,” you might be tempted to shout, “Make this deployment over today!” However, try to refrain asking nearly the impossible, and instead find some little ways that others might help ease your stress level. These things might be:

  • Drive the kids to practice one day a week.
  • Provide a meal one day a week.
  • Help with a home maintenance project, even as simple as rearranging furniture.
  • Assist with yard work.
  • Help with pet care – walking the dog and checking in on pets can be ways for even kids to help share the responsibilities at home.
  • Be available to listen to the stress so you don’t have to dump on the kids or someone who is going through the same stresses as you are already.
  • The list goes on and on!

You can even keep a list handy of “one time” things that you need help with that normally your soldier would be there to do. Keep another list of people who you know are willing to help with certain tasks, and one more list of people who have simply offered to do anything. Even though you might never call upon these people, having the tangible proof that you are surrounded by support can ease stress.

It is important to remember that even if someone hasn’t offered to help, it doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t ask. Sometimes people are just waiting for the invitation because they don’t want to offend you and present an image that they don’t think you are capable. You can also seek out other sources of support from places such as:

  • Churches
  • Community outreach programs
  • Neighborhood groups
  • Online forums
  • Military resources
  • Family
  • Co-workers

Asking for help is not easy for most people, but if we can pay it forward and offer help to others, sometimes that action allows us to accept help at some point in our own lives. In the end it is much better to swallow a little pride, accept the generosity of friends and strangers alike, and take care of yourself as your soldier would want to be able to take care of you

Why Schools Need to Be Trauma Informed

Do educators and schools have an informed role to play in the lives of students struggling with unprocessed traumatic memories other
than providing cognitive learning experiences? Although schools are not mental health facilities and teachers are not therapists, teaching today’s students requires alternative strategies and skills compared to what worked a generation ago.

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This randomized controlled study assessed the efficacy of a structured group therapy for traumatized, adjudicated adolescents in residential treatment. Youth were randomly assigned to a trauma intervention (SITCAP-ART) or to a waitlist/comparison group. The intervention included both sensory and cognitive/behavioral components. Standardized trauma and mental health measures were used. Study participants demonstrated statistically significant reductions in trauma symptoms, depression, rule breaking behaviors, aggressive behaviors and other mental health problems.

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Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Reactions


  • Intrusive thoughts, feelings
  • Traumatic dreams
  • Flashbacks
  • Intense psychological distress triggered
    by reminders
  • Physiological reactivity


  • Of thoughts, feelings, talking of activities, places, people associated with trauma
  • Inability to recall
  • Numbing, detachment, estrangement
  • Restricted affect
  • Foreshortened future


  • Sleep difficulty
  • Irritability, assaultive behavior
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty remembering
  • Hypervigilance
  • Startle response

PTSD is diagnosed when reactions persist or develop four weeks beyond the initial traumatic incident and when there exists one or more reexperiencing reactions; three or more avoidance reactions and two or more arousal reactions.

PTSD Reactions in Children

  • Cognitive dysfunction involving memory and learning. “A” students become “C” students; severe reactions cause others to fail altogether.
  • Inability to concentrate. Children who once could complete two and three different tasks now have difficulty with a single task. Parents and educators often react negatively to this behavior because they simply do not understand its cause.
  • Tremendous fear and anxiety. One boy who witnessed his father kill his mother when he was seventeen-months-old is now seven-years-old. He still sleeps on the floor, ever ready to run from danger. Six-year-old Elizabeth, whose sister was killed one year earlier, is also sleeping on the floor. She did not witness her sister’s murder, yet she is experiencing this same hypervigilant PTSD response.
  • Increased aggression, fighting, assaultive behavior – these are the first reactions generally identified as a change since the trauma. Revenge is a constant theme when the incident has been a violent one.
  • Survivor guilt: Students not in school at the time of a random shooting and subsequent death of a fellow student feel accountable and experience intrusive thoughts and images. Another form of survivor guilt is the belief that “It should have been me instead” or “I wish it would have been me instead.”
  • Intrusive images (flashbacks): Two years later, teachers still notice this teenage girl engaging in a plucking motion with her hand. She was home when the beating occurred. She did not know her mother was already dead when she ran to help her. When she rolled her mother over, her mother’s mouth was filled with blood and broken teeth. The daughter began pulling the broken teeth from her mother’s mouth so she wouldn’t choke on them. Two years later, that plucking motion still occurred when she’s reexperiencing her experience.
  • Traumatic dreams: We first met eleven-year-old Tommy one year after his sister had been stabbed repeatedly in the chest/stomach area and was killed by a serial killer. His sister. He was still having dreams of his “guts” being ripped out by “Candyman ” even though he was not a witness.
  • Inappropriate age-related behavior: These include clinging to mother, bed-wetting, and other regressive behaviors. Eleven-year-old Tommy, the boy mentioned above, has started to stutter.
  • Startle reactions: After her father beat her mother to death, the police arrived to take pictures and arrest the father. Two years later, this daughter still cannot allow her picture to be taken because it reminds her of that day.
  • Emotional detachment: Fifteen-year-old Mary, whose sister was also killed by a serial killer, had made friends that her mother described as “real trouble.” Mary never even cried at the funeral. She had received help, but not trauma-specific help.

Children may exhibit the following behaviors:

  • Trouble sleeping, being afraid to sleep alone even for short periods of time.
  • Be easily startled (terrorized) by sounds, sights, smells similar to those that existed at the time of the event – a car backfiring may sound like the gun shot that killed someone; for one child, his dog pouncing down the stairs brought back the sound of his father falling down the stairs and dying.
  • Become hypervigilant – forever watching out for and anticipating that they are about to be or are in danger.
  • Seek safety “spots” in their environment, in whatever room they may be in at the time. Children who sleep on the floor instead of their bed after a trauma do so because they fear the comfort of a bed will let them sleep so hard that they won’t hear danger coming.
  • Become irritable, aggressive, act tough, provoke fights.
  • Verbalize a desire for revenge.
  • Act as if they are no longer afraid of anything or anyone verbalizing that nothing ever scares them anymore and in the face of danger, respond inappropriately.
  • Forget recently acquired skills.
  • Return to behaviors they had previously stopped, i.e. bed-wetting, nail-biting, or developing disturbing behaviors such as stuttering.
  • Withdraw and want to do less with their friends.
  • Develop physical complaints: headaches, stomach problems, fatigue, and other ailments not previously present.
  • Become accident prone, taking risks they had previously avoided, putting themselves in life threatening situations, reenacting the event as a victim or a hero.
  • Developing a pessimistic view of the future, losing their resilience to overcome additional difficulties, losing hope, losing their passion to survive, play, and enjoy life.