Nurturing Resilience Through Play in Early Childhood

“Children need the freedom and time to play. Play is
not a luxury. Play is a necessity.”

Kay Redfield Jamison

Imagine a garden where every child is a budding flower, each needing care and attention to blossom fully. Throughout the early childhood journey, we often find ourselves navigating the delicate task of fostering resilience in our young learners. Resilience, that crucial capacity to bounce back from adversity, is a cornerstone for a fulfilling life with universal hope, boundless love, and limitless success. The magic ingredient to fostering this resilience? Play.

The Power of Play: More Than Just Fun

Play is often dismissed as a frivolous activity, merely a break from the “real” learning. However, research paints a different picture. By shifting our mindset, we can recognize that play is a fundamental way for children to explore themselves and the world around them. Deprived of play, children risk losing their imagination and autonomy. Through play, the seeds of critical social, emotional, and cognitive skills are planted, ready to be nurtured throughout their lives.

The Trauma-Informed Lens

A trauma-informed approach recognizes that many children come to us with invisible backpacks filled with stress, anxiety, and adverse experiences impacting their growth and development. One of the most powerful protective factors for fostering resilience and promoting healing is the presence of at least one caring adult who loves them irrationally and unconditionally. Wow, that’s powerful! By creating safe, nurturing, and playful environments, we can help children unpack these burdens, fostering a sense of security and belonging. This foundation, supported by a trusted, loving relationship, is vital for resilience.

Building Authentic Relationships

At the heart of resilience lies the power of authentic relationships. As we all do, even the youngest children need to feel seen, heard, and valued. This sense of belonging and connection is the foundation of resilience. Here are some practical strategies to foster these relationships with our little ones:

  • Be Present and Attentive: Show genuine interest in each child’s thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Active listening and eye contact go a long way in making a child feel valued.
  • Create Consistent Routines: Predictability provides a sense of security. Consistent routines help children feel safe and understand what to expect, reducing anxiety and increasing confidence.
  • Celebrate Individual Strengths: Each child is unique. Celebrate their strengths and achievements, no matter how small. This builds self-esteem and a positive self-concept.

Empowering Autonomy Through Play

Empowering children to make choices and take control of their play fosters independence and self-confidence. Here’s how to start:

  • Offer Choices Whenever Possible: Provide a variety of play activities and let children choose what interests them. This autonomy in decision-making boosts their confidence and sense of control.
  • Encourage Problem-Solving: Allow children to encounter challenges during play and observe them finding solutions, simply offering support through guided facilitation rather than intervening. This builds critical thinking and resilience.
  • Promote Risk-Taking in a Safe Environment: Encourage children to take calculated risks in play. This could be trying a new activity or exploring new roles in pretend play. Ensuring a safe environment allows them to experiment and learn from failures without fear.

Creating environments where every child feels included, capable, and joyful is crucial for fostering resilience because these environments help children develop a strong sense of self-worth and belonging. When children feel accepted and valued, they are more likely to take risks, persevere through challenges, and recover from setbacks. Here are a few ideas to incorporate into your child’s experiences to nurture resilience through play:

  • Sensory Exploration Stations: Create sensory bins or exploration stations with materials like rice, beans, fabric scraps, or natural objects (smooth stones, pinecones). Allow children to explore textures, colors, and shapes freely. This encourages sensory development and fosters a sense of curiosity and discovery.
  • Practical Life Activities: Introduce simple, age-appropriate tasks such as pouring water from a small pitcher into a cup, transferring objects between containers, or sorting shapes or colors. These activities promote fine motor skills, concentration, and independence.
  • Nature Walks and Outdoor Exploration: Take children on nature walks where they can explore natural surroundings, touch leaves, feel different textures, and observe insects or birds. Spending time outdoors supports sensory development, physical activity, and a connection to the natural world.
  • Music and Movement Activities: Engage children in music and movement activities such as singing songs with hand movements, dancing to music, or playing simple instruments like shakers or bells. Music and movement support language development, coordination, and emotional expression.
  • Quiet Reading and Storytelling:
    Create a cozy reading corner with age-appropriate books and soft cushions or rugs. Read aloud to children, using expressive voices and gestures. Storytelling helps develop language skills, imagination, and a sense of comfort and security.

These sensory-based activities are designed to be child-led, promoting independence, exploration, and learning through hands-on experiences while having fun! Incorporating trauma-informed practices involves creating a safe and supportive environment where children feel secure and valued, allowing them to explore and learn at their own pace.

Embracing the Journey

As early childhood professionals, we teach, guide, support, and inspire. Embrace the journey with a playful heart, and watch your young learners grow into resilient, confident, and joyful individuals. Remember, the seeds of resilience are planted in the rich soil of play, nurtured by genuine connections, and cultivated through empowering experiences.

In the words of Fred Rogers, “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning. Play is the work of childhood.” Let’s embrace this philosophy and create a world where every child has the opportunity to thrive. Happy playing!

Ready to make a significant impact on young lives? Equip yourself with the essential skills to support and heal early childhood trauma. Enroll in Starr Commonwealth’s Trauma-Informed Certification for Early Childhood today and be the catalyst for change in your community. Learn more at https://starr.org/trauma-certification-early-childhood/.

Essential Strategies for School Safety: Insights from Starr Experts

In June, Starr experts highlighted important concepts through two articles on the Michigan Association of Superintendents & Administrators (MASA) website.

In an article titled “Protecting Schools from Violence: What Matters Most?” Dr. Caelan Soma, Starr’s Chief Clinical Officer, outlines how schools need comprehensive safety plans with preventive measures, emergency responses, and recovery strategies that are regularly updated and practiced. Engaging parents, law enforcement, and mental health professionals is essential. Addressing students’ mental health through early intervention and providing support can also prevent threats.

To learn more about these essential strategies and how to implement them in your school, read “Protecting Schools from Violence: What Matters Most?” at MASA’s website.

In a second article titled “Fostering Safe and Supportive Schools: Empowering Educational Leaders,” Erica Ilcyn, a Trauma & Resilience in Education Senior Consultant at Starr, outlines how creating a safe and supportive school environment goes beyond physical safety. It involves empowering educational leaders to implement trauma-informed systems that reduce exclusionary practices and create a supportive school culture that addresses all students’ needs. Building a trauma-informed system requires collaboration among teachers, administrators, and mental health professionals, ensuring consistent and practical application of policies and practices.

For a comprehensive guide on implementing these practices and fostering a nurturing school environment, check out the full article.

By reading these articles, you’ll gain valuable insights into creating safer, more supportive schools for all students. Take advantage of these essential strategies!

Circle of Courage

Five Ways to Foster Resilience

As professionals dedicated to working with youth, we are entrusted with a profound responsibility and a unique privilege: to shape and influence the lives of the young people we encounter. The most critical protective factor for increasing a child’s resilience is ensuring they believe they have at least one adult who loves them irrationally and unconditionally. This can be achieved by authentically connecting with children in a way that feels natural to them.

Every interaction with a child is an opportunity to foster resilience, build trust, and nurture a sense of belonging. Through the Circle of Courage principles and a trauma-informed approach, we can ensure that every child feels loved, valued, and cared for, exactly as they are and who they hope to be.

The Circle of Courage: A Foundation for Resilience

The Circle of Courage outlines four essential components that contribute to a child’s sense of belonging and overall well-being: Belonging, Mastery, Independence, and Generosity. Integrating these principles into our daily interactions creates an environment where children can thrive, even in adversity.

1. Belonging: Cultivating Connections and Community

The cornerstone of resilience is a strong sense of belonging. Children need to feel that they are part of a community that values and accepts them. As professionals, we can foster this by:

  • Proactively Responding to Bids for Attention: Children often fulfill their need for attention through their behavior, whether it’s positive or negative. By recognizing and responding to these bids in real-time, we affirm their worth and show them that they are seen and heard. A smile, a kind word, or a moment of undivided attention can make a world of difference.
  • Creating Inclusive Environments: Ensure that every child feels welcomed and included. Celebrate diversity and make a conscious effort to understand each child’s unique background and experiences. This helps build a community where every child feels they belong.

2. Mastery: Encouraging Growth and Achievement

Children need opportunities to learn, grow, and achieve. When we help them build skills and celebrate their successes, we empower them to take on new challenges confidently.

  • Setting Achievable Goals: Work alongside children to set realistic and attainable goals. Celebrate their progress, no matter how small, and provide positive reinforcement to encourage continued effort and persistence.
  • Offering Support and Resources: Provide the tools and resources children need to succeed. This might include tutoring, mentorship, or access to extracurricular activities that align with their interests and talents.

3. Independence: Empowering Self-Agency and Choice

Children need to feel that they have control over their lives and the ability to make choices. By fostering independence, we help them develop a sense of responsibility and self-efficacy.

  • Encouraging Decision-Making: Involve children in decisions that affect them. This can be as simple as allowing them to choose their activities or as significant as involving them in developing their own support plans.
  • Respecting Individuality: Recognize and honor each child’s unique strengths, interests, and needs. Encourage them to explore their passions and support them in pursuing their own paths.

4. Generosity: Instilling a Sense of Purpose and Connection

Helping children understand the value of giving back and contributing to their community fosters a sense of purpose and connection.

  • Modeling Generosity: Show children what it means to be generous through your own actions. Volunteer together, engage in community service or random acts of kindness, and discuss the importance of helping others.
  • Creating Opportunities for Contribution: Provide children with opportunities to contribute to their community through small acts of kindness or larger community projects. This helps them see their potential to make a positive impact.

Joyful Engagement: The Heart of Trauma-Informed Care

A resilience-focused approach requires us to meet each child with empathy, patience, and joy. By embracing every interaction as an opportunity to uplift and support, we can transform the lives of the children we serve. Here are some practical ways to infuse joy and care into our daily interactions:

  • Be Present: Give children your full attention. Listen actively and show genuine interest in their thoughts and feelings.
  • Celebrate Uniqueness: Acknowledge and celebrate what makes each child unique. Encourage them to express themselves and validate their experiences.
  • Foster Positive Relationships: Build strong, trusting relationships with the children you work with. Show them that they can rely on you for support and guidance.
  • Maintain a Positive Outlook: Approach challenges with a positive attitude and a problem-solving mindset. Be the calm that helps children see obstacles as opportunities for growth and learning.
  • Authentic Connection: Make every effort to connect with each child in a manner that resonates with them. Understand their language, their interests, and their needs. Show them that your care and love are unwavering and unconditional.

By incorporating these practices into our work, we can create environments where children feel safe, valued, and empowered. Every interaction is a chance to build resilience, and by embracing this opportunity, we can make a lasting impact on the lives of the young people we serve. Let’s commit to making every moment count, nurturing resilience, and ensuring every child knows they are loved and cared for exactly as they are.

How to Decrease Trauma Symptoms and Reactions of Anxiety

Healing from Within

We know that trauma is a profound and often distressing experience that can profoundly impact your mental, emotional, and physical well-being. The journey from trauma to healing is intricate, involving a complex interplay between the mind and body. Recognizing this connection is vital to fostering effective healing and recovery.

Understanding Trauma and Its Symptoms

Trauma can stem from a single overwhelming event or a series of adverse experiences such as accidents, natural disasters, violence, or sustained abuse. The symptoms of trauma can vary but often include:

  • Intrusive memories: Recurrent, involuntary memories or flashbacks of the traumatic event.
  • Avoidance: Steering clear of reminders of the trauma, whether people, places, or activities.
  • Negative changes in thinking and mood: Persistent feelings of hopelessness, guilt, or detachment from others.
  • Alterations in arousal and reactivity: Hypervigilance, exaggerated startle response, and difficulty sleeping.

These symptoms illustrate how trauma is not just a psychological experience but a profound bodily one. The body’s stress response is activated during trauma. Without proper resolution, this state of high alert can persist, contributing to ongoing anxiety and distress.

Anxiety as a Reaction to Trauma

Anxiety is a common reaction to trauma, manifesting as a heightened sense of fear, worry, and unease. This reaction is your body’s way of staying on guard against potential threats. When this state of heightened alertness becomes chronic, it can lead to ongoing difficulties.

From a resilience-focused perspective, anxiety can be seen as both a challenge and an opportunity. While it signals underlying distress, it also indicates that your body and mind are communicating about unprocessed trauma. Because we can not manage what we are unaware of, understanding and addressing these signals our bodies attempt to communicate is crucial for healing.

The Mind-Body Connection in Healing

The path to healing from trauma and its associated anxiety involves recognizing and nurturing the mind-body connection. Trauma is stored not just in our memories but also in our bodies. Therefore, effective healing practices must address both aspects. Here are some strategies to consider on your healing journey:

  1. Mindfulness and Meditation: These practices help you become aware of your bodily sensations and thoughts and connect to them without judgment. By cultivating a sense of present-moment awareness, you can begin to process and release stored trauma.
  2. Breathwork: Conscious breathing exercises can regulate the nervous system, reducing symptoms of anxiety and helping you feel more grounded and centered during moments of dysregulation.
  3. Restoring Resilience: Building resilience involves developing skills to manage stress and bounce back from adversity. This includes fostering social connections, practicing self-care, creating a positive outlook, and seeking support as needed.

Healing Anxiety Reactions Through Sensory Interventions

Treating anxiety rooted in trauma through sensory interventions offers a powerful approach to healing and restoring resilience. Sensory interventions engage the body’s senses to process and release trauma, calming the nervous system and reducing anxiety. Techniques such as:

  • Aromatherapy: Using calming scents like lavender to evoke a sense of peace.
  • Grounding Exercises: Engaging in tactile sensations, such as holding a comforting object, to help you reconnect with your body and the present moment.
  • Structured Sensory Interventions: Activities like art or music interaction allow for the expression and processing of trauma in non-verbal ways, facilitating emotional release and recovery.

By incorporating these sensory interventions, you can gradually re-establish a sense of safety and resilience. Reconnecting your mind and body transforms anxiety into a pathway for healing. Building resilience is more than just coping with stress; it’s about thriving in the face of adversity. By integrating practices that honor the mind-body connection, you can develop greater emotional and physical resilience. This holistic approach not only addresses the symptoms of trauma and anxiety but also empowers you to reclaim your sense of well-being and purpose.

Ready to enhance your skills in trauma-informed care? Become a Certified Trauma and Resilience Specialist to deepen your understanding of trauma’s impact on children and gain practical tools for effective support. Our certification equips professionals like social workers, therapists, healthcare providers, and others working with children to broaden their expertise in trauma-informed practices.

toddler in therapy session

Understanding the SITCAP® Model: A Guide to Trauma and Resilience

Key Points:
    • Brain science supports the efficacy of Starr’s Clinical Foundations of Trauma and Resilience and SITCAP® model in addressing trauma and fostering resilience.
    • The SITCAP® model is accessible to various professionals, not just licensed mental health practitioners, facilitating wider implementation.
    • Research highlights trauma as a public health crisis but identifies protective factors and interventions that can mitigate its impact.

Sensory Interventions: Key to Trauma and Resilience

Research on the impact of toxic stress, trauma, and resilience continues to support the core principles and components of Starr’s Clinical Foundations of Trauma and Resilience certification and Structured Sensory Interventions (SITCAP) model, reinforcing its practice-based evidence status. Childhood resilience research, the polyvagal theory, breakthroughs in the study of epigenetics, insights from the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACEs) direct practice with at-risk and traumatized youth in various settings, feedback from Certified Trauma and Resilience Specialists using the SITCAP® model programs, and the significance of mind-body skills for emotional awareness and regulation continue to inform and shape our many SITCAP® model programs and interventions.

Research and Community Needs

Plentiful research supports the connection between trauma, toxic stress, and negative implications for emotional, behavioral, academic, and physical health. One out of every four children experiencing trauma and even more living with circumstances of toxic stress, such as food insecurity, affirms trauma as a public health crisis. The coronavirus pandemic further exacerbated the situation, affecting children, parents, and caregivers worldwide. In 2021, the American Academy of Pediatrics declared a National Emergency in Child and Adolescent Mental Health, a concern also recognized by the Children’s Hospital Association, the American Psychiatric Association, and the Biden Administration. However, research on protective factors promoting resilience offers hope that practitioners can facilitate healing in challenging situations.

The Need for Practical Interventions

Given the significant shortage of licensed mental health practitioners to meet the mental health needs of children and adults, every child-caring adult must have access to effective, short-term intervention tools to address trauma and build resilience. The SITCAP® model programs and intervention tools provide a viable solution. Starr’s Trauma and Resilience Specialist certifications are recommended for all wishing to use and implement the SITCAP® model program and interventions, aiding a broader range of professionals and families in need.

Program Availability and Implementation

SITCAP® model programs and interventions are now accessible for infants, toddlers, preschoolers, elementary, middle, and high school children, and their parents and caregivers. These interventions, practical for use in individual and group settings, are easy to learn. All programs and interventions are manualized and scripted, ensuring higher practice fidelity and supporting implementation and evaluation.

Professional Development Opportunities

Clinical Foundations of Trauma and Resilience offers an in-depth review of trauma’s impact on the brain and nervous system, including the polyvagal theory and the science of resilience. It provides a comprehensive look at the SITCAP® model’s core principles, components, and case examples of implementation, encouraging professionals to become Certified Trauma and Resilience Specialists and deepen their understanding of trauma’s impact on children along with gaining practical tools for support.

Ready to enhance your skills in trauma-informed care? Become a Certified Trauma and Resilience Specialist to deepen your understanding of trauma’s impact on children and gain practical tools for effective support. Our certification equips professionals like social workers, therapists, healthcare providers, and others working with children to broaden their expertise in trauma-informed practices.


References

Briggs, E. C., Amaya-Jackson, L., Putnam, K. T., & Putnam, F. W. (2021). All adverse childhood experiences are not equal: The contribution of synergy to adverse childhood experience scores. American Psychologist76(2), 243.

Masten, A. S., Narayan, A. J., & Wright, M. O. D. (2023). Resilience processes in development: Multisystem integration emerging from four waves of research. In Handbook of Resilience in Children (pp. 19-46). Cham: Springer International Publishing.

Panchal, U., Salazar de Pablo, G., Franco, M., Moreno, C., Parellada, M., Arango, C., & Fusar-Poli, P. (2023). The impact of COVID-19 lockdown on child and adolescent mental health: systematic review. European child & adolescent psychiatry32(7), 1151-1177.

Phillips, L., & Tucker, S. (2023). A closer look at the mental health provider shortage. Counseling Today.

Richards, M. C., Benson, N. M., Kozloff, N., & Franklin, M. S. (2024). Remodeling broken systems: addressing the national emergency in child and adolescent mental health. Psychiatric Services75(3), 291-293.

Soma, C., Sloan, J., Garipey, S., Mueller, G., Gerlach, R., Sanders-Cobb, H., & Mason, D. (2021). STARR: Sensory-based trauma assessment and intervention to restore resilience. Journal of Infant, Child, and Adolescent Psychotherapy20 (3), 277-289.

Steele, W., & Kuban, C. (2010). Structured sensory trauma interventions. Reclaiming Children and Youth18(4), 29.

Steele, W., & Kuban, C. (2013). Working with grieving and traumatized children and adolescents: Discovering what matters most through evidence-based, sensory interventions. John Wiley & Sons.

Steele, W., & Raider, M. (2001). Structured sensory intervention for traumatized children, adolescents, and parents: Strategies to alleviate trauma (Vol. 1). Edwin Mellen Press.

Starr Commonwealth Hosts Transformative Community Forum on Innovative Approach to Poverty

Starr Commonwealth, a leading organization dedicated to healing trauma and building resilience in children, families, and communities, hosted a community forum titled “An Innovative Approach to Poverty.” The event, held at Starr Commonwealth’s Albion campus on May 22, 2024, featured Dr. Marcella Wilson, Founder & CEO of Transition to Success® (TTS).

Dr. Wilson, with over 30 years of extensive experience in healthcare administration, nonprofit management, behavioral health, criminal justice, and public sector programming, presented a compelling vision for addressing poverty. Her approach reframes poverty as an environmentally-based medical condition rather than a character flaw. In her book, Diagnosis: Poverty, Dr. Wilson outlines a scalable, sustainable, and multigenerational response that can be implemented across health, human services, government, education, and faith-based organizations.

The forum brought together community leaders, educators, and professionals who are passionate about empowering individuals and families to become self-sufficient and economically independent. Attendees learned about evidence-based strategies and how to coordinate existing resources across sectors to combat poverty effectively.

Unable to make it to this event? Starr will be providing this opportunity again in the future. Please contact us at info@starr.org if you are interested in learning more.

clinician with child

Transform Your Clinical Practice: Master Trauma-Informed Care with Starr Commonwealth’s Certified Trauma and Resilience Specialist Certification

Are you ready to advance your expertise in trauma-informed care with a Certified Trauma and Resilience Specialist certification from Starr Commonwealth? Dr. Caelan Soma answers all your questions about Starr’s new Clinical Foundations for Trauma and Resilience packages below.

About Dr. Soma

Dr. Caelan Soma, PsyD, LMSW, Chief Clinical Officer, oversees all clinical operations and research at Starr Commonwealth. Dr. Soma provides trauma assessment and trauma-informed, resilience-focused intervention for youth utilizing evidence-based practices, including Starr’s SITCAP© model programs.

She has been involved in helping with the aftermath of disasters such as Sandy Hook, Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and others. She has authored several books, the most recent, 10 Steps to Create a Trauma-Informed Resilient School and Healing the Experience of Trauma: A Path to Resilience. She is an internationally acclaimed speaker and trainer, and is the instructor for many Starr courses, including Clinical Foundations of Trauma and Resilience. She received her doctorate in Clinical Psychology at California Southern University, where she received the 2013 CalSouthern President’s Award.

What are the new clinical packages?
The new clinical certification is called Clinical Foundations for Trauma and Resilience. The packages combine didactic and experiential training, focusing on trauma and resilience in children and adolescents. Every package includes comprehensive training with lecture-style videos and opportunities for participants to practice what they learn; demonstrations of interventions are included. Case examples are also shared.  The packages differ only in the number of resources each includes.

Who is this certification for?
This certification is for any adult who works with children who have experienced too much stress or trauma. All adults, licensed and non-licensed professionals, can benefit from this certification. You will benefit from this training if you are a social worker, counselor, therapist, psychologist, youth care specialist, child life specialist, nurse, pastor, corrections officer, occupational therapist, or speech pathologist. The interventions taught in this training can be implemented in brief interactions or within traditional groups or individual therapy sessions. Interventions apply across all settings regardless of the type of trauma a child has experienced, from one specific event to complex trauma such as maltreatment.

What will they learn?
First, participants learn the importance of resilience. This is a critical component in establishing a strength-based mindset rooted in hope that supports the fact that stress and trauma do not seal a child’s fate. Stress and trauma are only one part of a child, and we can do many things as adults to help children experience interactions and activities that will build and strengthen their resilience while assisting them in managing the symptoms and reactions they experience.

Participants will learn the common themes experienced with trauma and alternate themes supporting resilience. The focus is on not just how a child feels psychologically but also how they feel physically. Interventions to use immediately will help get to the root of how stress and trauma impact a youth’s nervous system. Resilience-building strategies offer professionals strategies for children to have experiences that reinforce connection and a sense of belonging, emotional regulation, value, and self-esteem.

Every package includes strategies and interventions. Participants will receive everything they need to begin working with youth immediately after training. With hundreds of interventions and reproducible worksheets, professionals don’t have to wonder what to do with youth who need relief from stress and opportunities to feel empowered – they will have many tools at their fingertips.

What types of resources are included?
Each of the clinical certification packages includes a variety of excellent resources. All packages include a textbook, activities packet, trauma education booklets, and a behavior support plan complete with 3 assessment tools and strategies to foster and nurture resilience while healing trauma.

How is it different from other certifications?
This certification differs from others because it doesn’t stop at theory – it goes far beyond. It provides practical, easy-to-implement, evidence-based interventions for children of all ages across all settings. Many interventions rely solely on talk or cognitive processes. However, the sensory-based interventions provided in this certification have been designed to be used with children who are operating from a place of stress and terror. The interventions help regulate their nervous systems, help them find the words to explain their experiences, make youth active participants in their healing, and provide new ways of looking at themselves as empowered and survivors rather than victims. This certification will restore self-efficacy in child-caring professionals, providing them with agency and hope that their work with youth makes a difference regardless of how traumatic the experience.

Starr’s Clinical Foundations of Trauma and Resilience is not just a certification; it’s a gateway to becoming part of a legacy that has shaped the field of trauma-informed care. With over 110 years of experience, Starr empowers you to make a lasting difference in the lives of those you serve. Start your journey today!

Have more questions? Email us at info@starr.org.

Understanding Stress: Empowering Resilience through Mindfulness

Throughout the beautiful journey of the human experience, stress emerges as a multifaceted phenomenon, weaving its threads through the fabric of our lives in various forms. From the everyday pressures of work and relationships to the deeper, more enduring effects of things like adverse childhood experiences, stress manifests in different ways, each with its own unique impact on our mental and physical health.

It’s crucial to recognize the diversity of stress and its effects as we navigate our journey toward resilience. Everyday stressors, such as traffic jams or looming deadlines, can trigger our body’s natural fight-or-flight response, leading to temporary feelings of tension and anxiety. These stressors can often be helpful for us to leverage our body’s natural hormone and chemical response to overcome the obstacle in front of us with gusto. On the other hand, toxic stress, often stemming from prolonged exposure to adverse experiences, often stemming from childhood, can have profound and lasting effects on our overall wellbeing.

However, amidst the complexities of stress, we possess a powerful tool: autonomy. We have the power to choose how we respond to stress, whether it’s by feeling overwhelmed and defeated or by proactively implementing strategies to mitigate its effects.

Mindfulness serves as a beacon of empowerment in this regard. By cultivating awareness, compassion, and presence, we can navigate the ebb and flow of stress with grace and resilience. Rather than feeling helpless in the face of life’s challenges, we can reclaim agency over our mental and emotional wellbeing.

Research has shown that mindfulness practices can significantly reduce the adverse effects of stress on our mental and physical health. By integrating simple daily practices into our lives, we can take a proactive approach to mental wellness, mitigating the impact of stress before it takes its toll.

So, what can we do to cultivate mindfulness in our daily lives? Here are some practical strategies to get started:

  • Mindful Breathing: Take a few moments each day to focus on your breath, allowing it to ground you in the present moment. Notice the sensations of each inhale and exhale, and let them anchor you in a sense of calm and centeredness. With each inhale, acknowledge the sensations your body is experiencing and validate your feelings. With each exhale, give your body permission to release it and find an inner calmness.
  • Body Scan Meditation: Set aside time to scan your body from head to toe, tuning in to any areas of tension or discomfort. With each breath, invite relaxation to flow into those areas, releasing stress and promoting a sense of ease.
  • Mindful Movement: Engage in gentle movement practices such as yoga, walking, or stretching, paying attention to the sensations in your body as you move. Let each movement be a meditation in motion, connecting mind, body, and breath.
  • Gratitude Practice: Take time each day to reflect on the things you’re grateful for, no matter how small. Cultivating an attitude of gratitude can shift your perspective and foster a sense of joy and contentment, even in the face of adversity.
  • Mindful Eating: Slow down and savor each bite of your meals, paying attention to the flavors, textures, and sensations as you eat. Eating mindfully not only enhances your enjoyment of food but also promotes digestive health and overall well-being.

By embracing mindfulness as a proactive approach to mental wellness, we can navigate life’s challenges with resilience and strength. Let us empower ourselves to take control of our well-being, one mindful moment at a time.

putting it all together

Prioritizing Mental Wellness in Education: A Trauma-Informed Approach to Empower Teachers and Students

As we embrace Mental Health Awareness Month, it’s crucial to reflect on the invaluable role educators play in shaping the emotional and social well-being of our communities. Now more than ever, the importance of prioritizing mental wellness in schools cannot be overstated. At Starr Commonwealth, we believe in the power of a trauma-informed approach to education, one that champions the social and emotional well-being of every individual within the school community.

Educators are the unsung heroes who impart knowledge and provide a nurturing environment where students can thrive emotionally and academically. However, to effectively support our students, we must first support our educators. They are the heartbeat of our schools, and their well-being is paramount to creating safe and supportive learning environments.

Incorporating trauma-informed practices into schools is not just about understanding the impact trauma has on one’s ability to learn; it’s about fostering a culture of empathy, understanding, and resilience. It’s about recognizing that every individual brings their own unique experiences to the classroom and creating a safe space where they feel valued and heard; a space where every individual feels like they belong simply by showing up as their most authentic selves.

So, how can we empower educators to prioritize mental wellness for themselves and their students? It starts with embracing a strengths-based approach—one that celebrates the resilience and potential within each person. Here are five effective strategies educators can implement today to prioritize student mental wellness in their learning environments from a trauma-informed approach:

  1. Create a Safe and Supportive Environment: Foster a sense of safety and belonging in the classroom by establishing clear expectations for behavior and providing consistent routines that are co-created between the teacher and students in the room. Create physical spaces that feel welcoming and comfortable, and encourage open communication where students feel safe to express their thoughts and emotions without fear of judgment.
  2. Practice Mindfulness and Self-Regulation: Incorporate mindfulness exercises and self-regulation techniques into daily routines to help students manage stress and regulate their emotions. Teach breathing exercises, guided meditation, or simple yoga poses to help students develop awareness of their thoughts and feelings, promoting emotional regulation and resilience.

Get an in-depth guide to more mind-body activities by ordering the workbook below!

  1. Promote Positive Relationships: Build positive relationships with students based on trust, respect, and empathy. Take the time to get to know each student individually, show genuine interest in their well-being, and provide opportunities for meaningful connection. Recognize and celebrate their individual strengths and accomplishments daily, fostering a sense of belonging and worthiness.
  2. Teach Coping Skills: Equip students with practical coping skills to manage adversity and navigate challenging situations. Teach problem-solving strategies, effective communication skills, and stress management techniques to empower students to respond adaptively to stressors and build resilience. Encourage self-reflection and goal-setting to promote personal growth and development.
  3. Provide Access to Support Services: Ensure students have access to appropriate support services and resources to address their mental health needs. Collaborate with school counselors, social workers, and other mental health professionals to provide interventions and support tailored to individual student needs. Offer psychoeducation to students and families about mental health and available resources, reducing stigma and promoting help-seeking behavior.

As we navigate the complexities of education, let us remember the profound impact that a trauma-informed approach can have on the well-being of our students and educators alike. Let us celebrate the resilience and strength within each member of our school community, and let us continue to prioritize mental wellness as we shape the future together.

This Mental Health Awareness Month, let us recommit ourselves to creating schools where every individual feels seen, heard, and valued. Together, we can build a brighter, more resilient future for our students and educators alike.

Cultivating Resilience: A Blueprint for Educators

In the bustling corridors of our schools, amidst the laughter and the learning, there exists a silent yet powerful force: resilience. The inner strength that propels our students forward, even in the face of adversity. As educators, we have the privilege and the responsibility to nurture this resilience, to foster environments where every child can thrive. Today, let’s explore how we can put this into action within our learning environments.

Step 1: Embrace Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) Skills

  • Integrate SEL into your curriculum: Infuse lessons with opportunities for students to explore and develop their emotional intelligence, self-awareness, and relationship-building skills.
  • Model SEL in action: Be intentional about demonstrating empathy, active listening, and conflict resolution in your interactions with students and colleagues.
  • Provide SEL resources: Equip students with tools and resources—such as mindfulness exercises, emotion regulation strategies, and problem-solving techniques—to navigate challenges and build resilience.

Step 2: Foster a Sense of Belonging and Inclusion

  • Create a welcoming environment: Set the tone for inclusivity by decorating your classroom with diverse representations and affirming messages that celebrate the uniqueness of each student. Remember to greet each student by name upon their arrival to set an immediate warm tone each day!
  • Promote student voice and agency: Empower students to contribute their ideas, opinions, and perspectives to classroom discussions and decision-making processes.
  • Establish supportive relationships: Cultivate trusting relationships with your students by showing genuine interest in their well-being, offering encouragement and praise, and providing opportunities for one-on-one check-ins.

Step 3: Provide Access to Mental Health Support Resources

  • Offer counseling services: Partner with school counselors or mental health professionals to provide confidential support and resources for students experiencing emotional distress or mental health challenges as needed.
  • Implement mindfulness practices: Integrate mindfulness activities, such as deep breathing exercises, guided movement, or calming music into your daily routine to help students manage stress and enhance their well-being.
  • Collaborate with community organizations: Forge partnerships with local mental health agencies, nonprofit organizations, or youth centers to expand access to mental health services and support networks for students and families while reducing the stigma of accessing these types of supports.

Step 4: Reflect, Adapt, and Grow

  • Regularly assess student needs: Use informal check-ins, surveys, or classroom circle discussions to gather student feedback about their social-emotional well-being and identify areas for growth.
  • Reflect on your practices: Take time to reflect on your teaching strategies, classroom management techniques, and interactions with students to identify opportunities for improvement and refine your approach.
  • Stay informed and connected: Stay up to date on the latest research, best practices, and professional development opportunities related to trauma-informed care, restorative practices, and student well-being. Remember to be curious and apply a strengths-based mindset throughout your daily routines to help put your learning into practice.

By following these steps, we can create learning environments that foster academic achievement and nurture every student’s resilience and well-being. Let’s embark on this journey of cultivating resilience, one lesson, one interaction, and one heart at a time.

Supporting Safe Experiences in Early Childhood Care

Are you passionate about creating a safe and nurturing environment for young children? Well, you’ll love this topic – Supporting a physically and psychologically safe experience in Early Childhood Care. Let’s explore how we can create a warm and welcoming space that supports the growth and development of our little ones! Early childhood educators play a pivotal role in fostering a sense of safety and security for children in their care, especially for those who have experienced trauma or instability in their lives. Here are several strategies with supporting examples educators can use to help children feel safe:

Offer predictability.

Create a predictable environment by establishing and maintaining consistent routines. Knowing what to expect from their day can help children feel secure and grounded. Post visual cues and reminders about the daily schedule. Remind children often about what is coming up next.

First, we will have our morning meeting, and then when you hear the music start to play, we will move on to our centers.

Create a safe environment.

Design the classroom to be a welcoming and safe space. Ensure it is clean, well-organized, and filled with comforting materials. Areas that allow children to have their own space can also help them feel secure. Keep things simple, use color-coding or symbols to label supplies and toys.

If you want to read a book about animals look in the blue baskets. If you want to look at a book about fairies and unicorns look in the green baskets.

Be curious.

Respond and interact with children sensitively. Try to consider, “What has this child experienced?” Be attentive to children’s needs and respond to them caring and empathetically. Showing that you understand and care about their feelings can help build trust. The behavior you observe might be the only way a child can communicate their experience at this age. Does your body need a break right now? Maybe you can walk with me to get a drink of water.

Set expectations.

Set clear and consistent boundaries, rules, and expectations in an understandable way for children. Consistent boundaries can make the world seem more predictable and less frightening. Do not expect children to remember everything after only telling them once or twice. Remind children often about the boundaries, rules, and expectations. During our morning meetings, please keep your hands and feet to yourself.

Empower children.

Encourage autonomy and choice whenever possible. This can help them feel empowered and have a sense of control over their environment and experiences. Provide a limited number of simple choices to provide children with ownership without overwhelming them. Do you want to start with the ABC Center or the Science Center?

Connect.

Build strong, positive relationships with each child. A secure attachment with caregivers can be a significant source of comfort and safety for children. Have fun, play, and laugh with children.

Wow, I see a cat on your shirt, I have a cat at home named Fluffy.

Emotional awareness.

Recognize, name, and validate Feelings. Acknowledge children’s feelings and let them know it’s okay to feel however they do. This validation can help them feel understood and supported.

It is so sad when playground time is over. I know it is hard to stop swinging on the swings because you enjoy it so much.

Share your calm.

Model calmness and patience. Children are very perceptive and can pick up on the emotional states of adults around them. A calm presence can be very reassuring.

Let’s take a deep breath together. In through your nose and out through your mouth. Great. Let’s do that one more time.

Practice safety protocols.

Conduct regular safety drills (e.g., fire drills) in a way that is not frightening but empowering so children know what to do in an emergency.

We are going to practice what to do if our fire alarm ever sounds during that day. You don’t have to worry, there is not a fire now, but we are going to practice. In a few minutes, you will hear the siren and it will be very loud. When you hear the siren, go quickly to the side of the room and get into a line.

Collaborate with families and caregivers.

Work closely with families to understand the child’s background, any specific fears or triggers, and strategies that work well at home. This collaboration can ensure consistency and a deeper understanding of each child’s needs.

Let’s call your grandmother to tell her about your good morning painting with your friend. I think she was right, when you have a morning snack, you feel better.

By implementing these strategies, early childhood educators can create a secure, stable foundation, allowing children to explore, learn, and grow confidently.

Download the free resource below to start building deeper connections with the children in your care!

Cultivating Belonging: Navigating Exclusion with Restorative and Resilience-Focused Approach to Discipline

Hello, fellow educators and guardians of compassionate learning! Today, we embark on a transformative journey towards redefining disciplinary practices through the lens of restorative justice and resilience-focused mindset. Prepare to be inspired as we delve into a realm where exclusion, as a last resort in response to behavior, is reframed as an opportunity for connection, growth, and healing.

At Starr Commonwealth, we recognize the profound impact of trauma on young minds and the urgency of cultivating safe, nurturing environments within our educational spaces. It’s time to bid farewell to punitive measures that fracture relationships and breed resentment and, instead, embrace a mindset centered on restoration and reconnection.

Imagine this scenario: a student grappling with challenges beyond their control acts out in a way that disrupts the classroom environment. This might trigger an immediate exclusion in traditional settings, perpetuating a cycle of disengagement and isolation. But what if we paused, took a collective breath, and approached the situation with empathy and understanding?

Enter restorative discipline—a proactive and holistic approach rooted in the principles of healing and accountability. It begins with nurturing a culture of belonging and empowerment, where every voice is valued, and every behavior is viewed as an opportunity for growth.

Before exclusion becomes the default response, let’s explore the power of staying connected. This means reaching out to the student and their family, not with judgment or blame, but with genuine curiosity and support. It means engaging in restorative conversations that foster empathy, reflection, and mutual understanding.

In addition to maintaining connection, consider implementing restorative circles within your classroom or school community. These circles provide a structured space for dialogue, allowing participants to share their perspectives, express their feelings, and work collaboratively toward resolution. By embracing restorative circles, you create a sense of collective responsibility and empower students to become active participants in their own growth and development. This, in turn, serves as a proactive and universal approach to prevent behaviors that are hurtful to the learning environment!

Furthermore, let’s not overlook the critical role of reintegration meetings. Within the system of education, we understand that sometimes exclusionary practices are deemed necessary, especially in ensuring the maintenance of a safe learning environment for both staff and students. As such, when removing a student from their learning environment is deemed necessary, the need for a reintegration meeting upon their return to school is critical! These gatherings bring together all parties involved in the incident that took place, creating a sacred space for healing and reconciliation. Here, relationships are reaffirmed, harm is acknowledged, and plans for moving forward are collaboratively devised. This is where the real work of accountability, learning from mistakes, and learning empathy takes place.

But the journey doesn’t end there. Restorative discipline isn’t just a reactive measure; it’s a way of life. By adopting the Circle of Courage philosophy, we equip ourselves with a framework that honors the innate resilience and potential of every student. Start with universal approaches that promote belonging, mastery, independence, and generosity. And for those in need of additional support, offer targeted interventions that address underlying needs and teach essential skills while we simultaneously work to fulfill any unmet needs that exist.

So, dear educators, let us embark on this transformative journey together. Let us reclaim discipline as an act of love, healing, and empowerment. As we navigate the challenges ahead, let us remember the profound impact we have on shaping the hearts and minds of the next generation.

Together, we can create a world where every child feels seen, heard, and valued. Let’s make it happen, one restorative connection at a time.

School readiness and success: Are you meeting basic needs?

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and the Circle of Courage model of Resilience

Conversations and curriculums to promote school readiness in early childhood programs tend to focus on cognitive development, academics, concentration, and focus. In many cases, the priority must be basic needs. For children to be successful in school, they need to be well-fed, sleep well, feel safe at home, and have confidence in themselves. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a popular theory, which focuses on a series of needs to be successful.  He considered five needs – physiological, safety, love, esteem, and self-actualization- and put them in a pyramid. A person reaches their fullest potential, beginning with the foundational aspects of the basic needs – physiological and safety – and only when those needs are met does a person eventually reach self-actualization.   

The Circle of Courage, a model of resilience, suggests there are four universal needs for all human beings. These fit within the framework of Maslow’s Hierarchy and include belonging, mastery, independence, and generosity.

Both are helpful reminders that all learners are less likely to succeed if their basic needs are unmet. And for many children experiencing too much stress and trauma, their needs are not met.  The hierarchy of needs can help identify gaps; for example, breakfast might need to be provided for children who come to school hungry.

Considerations and Suggestions for meeting needs in early childhood centers

If you go through the details of the needs, this may become clearer in the context of children who are experiencing stress and trauma and what they need most to have a successful school experience.

Physiological needs include proper nutrition and water, access to fresh air, and enough rest, exercise, and warmth. Trauma-informed considerations include:

Is the child eating enough nutritious food?
What is the child’s sleep schedule?
Does the child have shoes that fit correctly?

Suggestions to meet physiological needs:

  • Snacks, free and reduced breakfast, and lunch options.
  • Available drinking water, working drinking fountains, and extra water bottles for those who need them.
  • Extra clothes, coats, hats, and mittens for accidents and playing outside in colder weather.
  • Nap or rest time.
  • Plentiful undirected play and exploration.

Safety needs are about security and feeling safe – physically and emotionally, as well as the need to have shelter/home and stability in one’s life. Trauma-informed considerations include:

Does the child know what to expect?
Do they have a predictable routine?
Is support provided when the child is learning a new skill?

Suggestions to meet the need of safety:

  • Rules – many verbal reminders and visuals posted.
  • Expectations – consistent and follow through.
  • Support during transition times.
  • Feedback and support with everything.

Belongingness and love have to do with others, the social side of feeling that you belong, are connected, loved, and included. Trauma-informed considerations:

Does the child have friends?
Is the child securely attached to at least one caring adult?
Have adults modeled how to share and take turns?

Suggestions to support meeting the need for belonging and love:

  • Cooperation experiences with ample support.
  • Opportunities to take turns and share toys and supplies.
  • Plentiful social and playtime with other children.

Esteem, Mastery, and Independence concern the inner self – having feelings of achievement, being recognized, having power over one’s life, and being a unique person with strengths and talents. Trauma-informed considerations:

Does the child have someone who pays attention to their achievements?
How often does the child receive compliments?
What is the child good at doing?
Does the child have access to co-regulation with a caring adult?

Suggestions for meeting the needs of esteem, mastery, and independence:

  • Notice children – often smile, wink, fist bump, and say their names.
  • Compliments from adults and peers.
  • Laughter and smiles galore.
  • Practice and support with emotional awareness and regulation.

Self-actualization and Generosity involve achieving one’s full potential, being creative, and finding that specialness of oneself. Trauma-informed considerations:

Does the child have access to a safe area to play with supervision?
Has the child ever completed a chore such as putting away toys in a box?
Does the child show empathy for others?

Suggestions to meet the needs of self-actualization and generosity:

  • Free play and exploration.
  • Opportunities to help one another.
  • Age-appropriate classroom jobs.
  • Service learning – making pictures/cards for hospitals.

Find more resources for supporting kids in early childhood care here.

Sparking Joy: Transformative Time-In Strategies for Resilience-Focused Learning Spaces

In the vibrant realm of shaping young minds, where every moment holds the potential for transformation, we often encounter challenges that disrupt the journey of growth and learning. However, amidst these moments lies an opportunity to transform behaviors and lives. At Starr Commonwealth, we believe in the power of joy, resilience, and trauma-informed care to create safe and supportive classrooms where every student can thrive. Join us on a journey to explore practical time-in strategies designed to nurture resilience, foster connection, and empower both you and your students.

Embracing Time-In Strategies

As trauma-responsive educators, we firmly believe in the stark contrast between time-in strategies, which nurture a student’s sense of belonging and resilience, and exclusionary practices that jeopardize their connection to the school community. By embracing time-in approaches, we prioritize building supportive relationships and fostering a culture where every student feels valued, respected, and empowered to thrive.

Time-in strategies offer a beacon of hope, guiding us toward meaningful connections and transformative moments in the classroom. Instead of resorting to punitive measures, time-in strategies invite students into a space of reflection, growth, and restoration.

Practical and Proactive Strategies

  1. Mindful Moments: Begin each day with a mindful moment, inviting students to center themselves through deep breathing or gentle stretches. These mindful moments can include no movement, small movements, or large movements depending on what the student’s body needs to achieve regulation. This sets a positive tone for the day and cultivates emotional regulation skills.
  2. Emotion Check-Ins: Create a safe space for students to express their emotions through check-in circles or journaling exercises. Encourage active listening and validation of each other’s experiences, fostering empathy and a sense of belonging.
  3. Calm Corners: Designate a cozy corner in the classroom equipped with calming activities such as coloring books, sensory bottles, or soft pillows. This provides students with a refuge to self-regulate and recharge during moments of distress.
  4. Strength-Based Affirmations: Integrate strength-based affirmations into daily routines, acknowledging each student’s unique talents and contributions. Celebrate their resilience and growth, fostering a culture of positivity and self-empowerment.
  5. Restorative Circles: Engage in restorative circles to address conflicts or challenges within the classroom community. Facilitate open dialogue, active listening, and collaborative problem-solving, promoting accountability and reconciliation.

Responding to ‘Disruptive’ Behavior

When faced with behaviors that are disruptive to the learning environment, it’s essential to approach them with empathy and a trauma-informed lens. First and foremost, we must always remember to maintain our curious mindset, being inquisitive about what the child is attempting to communicate to us. What need has not been met for that child that they are seeking to get met in the best way they know how? Instead of reacting impulsively, consider the underlying needs or triggers behind the behavior. Here are some strategies to respond effectively:

  • Stay Calm: Maintain a calm demeanor and avoid escalating the situation. Take a moment to breathe and collect your thoughts before responding.
  • Validate Feelings: Acknowledge the student’s emotions and validate their experiences. Let them know you’re here to support and help them navigate through challenges.
  • Offer Choices: Provide the student with options to regain control and autonomy. Offer alternative activities or ways to address their needs within the classroom environment.
  • Reconnect: Focus on rebuilding the connection with the student through positive interactions and reaffirmation of their strengths. Emphasize that mistakes are opportunities for growth and learning.

Embrace the Journey

As you embark on implementing these time-in strategies, remember that change takes time and patience. Embrace the process with an open heart, knowing that each small step you take has the potential to make a profound difference in the lives of your students.

Trust in the resilience of your students and yourself. Together, let’s create classrooms where joy, compassion, and learning flourish hand in hand. Let’s cultivate a culture of connection and empowerment, one time-in strategy at a time.

Download this FREE brain break activity!

mind body skills

Sensory-based strategies: Support Children’s Learning and Behavior

What is a sensory-based intervention or strategy?

Sensory-based strategies involve any five senses: Sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch—the central nervous system changes based on the input of various sensations. When a child of any age is engaged in learning and can complete tasks, their central nervous system is regulated and balanced. However, when a child is having difficulty with learning, engaging with peers and adults, or has behavior that prevents them from functioning well at school or home, their central nervous system is dysregulated in some way. It is either in a state of hyper-arousal where you might see a child unable to sit still, pay attention, or express defiance or aggression. Or perhaps you might observe a child who is in a dysregulated state of hypo-arousal, where you might observe a child who refuses to participate, ignores direction, withdraws, isolates, or spends a lot of time sleeping or numbing by misusing electronic devices or substances.

Engaging children in sensory-based strategies can help re-regulate their nervous system regardless of the dysregulation. This happens because sensory-based strategies target the brain’s area responsible for heart rate, muscle tension, and respiration (breath). Based on the stimulus received, these brain functions can be re-regulated (either slowed down or sped up). For example, if a child can’t sit still, allowing them to go for a walk or use their hands to draw or solve a puzzle will help exert some of their energy and calm their nervous system down. For a child who is disengaged and lethargic, taking a cold drink of water or intentionally noticing the environment around them will stimulate their nervous system to be more alert.

  • Sensory-based strategies you can use today:
  • What do you see?
    Invite the child to notice their surroundings. Ask them to identify all the objects around them, naming them out loud. (i.e., clock, desk, coffee mug, pencil, notebook). As a variation, ask the child to notice all the objects around them of a particular color. (i.e., name all the red objects you see.)
  • Trace your hand.
    Ask the child to straighten their arms in front of them with their palms facing down and spread out their fingers. Then, ask if they are left or right-handed. With the dominant hand’s pointer finger, tell the child to trace around each edge of the non-dominant hand with their finger.  Repeat this several times.
  • Sensory pathways.
    Create a pathway on the floor using stickers or sticky notes with instructions for children to follow. For example, hop on one foot, two jumps forward, arms stretched out, skip for three counts, march in place, etc.
  • Walk, run, or do jumping jacks in place.
  • Tension and Relaxation.
    Invite the child to notice various muscles in their body. Guide them to tighten and then relax each muscle. (I.e., fists, biceps, glutes, toes). Repeat several times.
  • Offer headphones.
    Offer headphones that cancel out all noise or allow for listening of calming music.
  • Hand on chest, hand on belly
    Ask the child to place one hand on their chest and the other on their belly either when seated or standing. Then, invite them to take a few breaths and notice where they feel the breath. Repeat. You can ask the child to take a few deep breaths and then finish with a few normal breaths.
  • Provide a drink of water or a small mint or hard candy if the child is old enough and choking is not a potential risk.

Sensory-based strategies can be implemented to support children in successful learning and behavior. Rather than getting frustrated with disengaged children or not behaving in ways that keep them on task and interacting successfully with others, notice the dysregulation. Once you see the dysregulation, you can determine what the child might need most to regain a balanced state in their nervous system.

Embracing Joyful Learning: Prioritizing Play and Empathy in Secondary Classrooms

In the vibrant tapestry of education, every thread contributes to the rich fabric of student growth and empowerment. As we navigate the complex landscape of trauma-informed teaching, let’s weave in the colorful threads of play, brain breaks, and sensory-based interventions, especially in our secondary classrooms. Because who said learning can’t be a joyful adventure?

Spark of Play: Let’s reimagine our classrooms as playgrounds of possibility! Introduce games, collaborative challenges, and interactive experiences that ignite the imagination of even our most stoic learners. After all, age is just a number when it comes to the joy of play. When students engage in play, they’re not just learning; they’re exploring, discovering, and building connections with each other and the material. In these moments of play, barriers dissolve, and the magic of learning truly shines.

Refresh and Recharge: Picture this… a classroom buzzing with energy and enthusiasm, punctuated by joyful movement and reflection moments. That’s the power of brain breaks! By infusing our day with these rejuvenating pauses, we invite students to stretch their bodies, quiet their minds, and reconnect with their innate curiosity. Whether it’s a spontaneous dance party or a peaceful mindfulness exercise, these breaks are like bursts of sunshine amid academic clouds, energizing our students for the journey ahead.

Sensory Symphony: Welcome to the sensory wonderland of learning! Sensory-based interventions offer a kaleidoscope of tools and experiences to support our students’ diverse needs. From squishy stress balls to soothing textures, these interventions empower students to regulate their emotions and engage with learning on their own terms. And yes, embracing the unknown can be an adventure in itself! Let’s embark on this journey with open hearts and minds, celebrating the joy of discovery and growth.

Pro Tip – Be the Guiding Light: As we continue our venture into this realm of joyful learning, let’s illuminate the path with empathy and understanding. Introduce new tools with intention, guiding students through their use and embracing the beautiful chaos of exploration. Together, let’s co-create a classroom agreement that honors each voice and fosters a culture of respect and collaboration. In this space of shared ownership, every stumble becomes a stepping stone towards greater empathy and resilience.

Here are 10 joyful ways to begin prioritizing play in your learning space today:

In the mosaic of education, every student deserves a place to shine. By embracing play, brain breaks, and sensory-based interventions, we not only create trauma-responsive classrooms but also cultivate communities where every voice is heard and valued. So, let’s embark on this journey with joy in our hearts and curiosity in our souls, lighting the way toward a future of inclusive education and radiant futures where every child can flourish.

Check out these additional resources in our store!

How adults can help youth engage in helpful and appropriate social media use

Social media is not inherently helpful to young people. The impact of social media and what youth see and do online depends on several variables. An adolescent’s personality, psychological characteristics, social circumstances, context in which they have grown up, strengths, and vulnerabilities are all characteristics that determine social media’s effect on youth.

Adolescent development is gradual and continuous. Therefore, depending on the child, appropriate use of social media should be based on self-regulation, intellectual growth, comprehension of potential risks, and their home environments. Overall, the best outcomes occur when there are limits and boundaries around how youth use social media. Discussions and coaching between children and adults around the appropriate use of social media are a must. Youth need to understand time limits, recommended content, how to use the “like” button, and most importantly, how their behavior on social media can be used, stored, and shared with others.

Some social media can be beneficial. For example, functions that support social support and companionship help youth who otherwise feel isolated, want access to like-minded peers, or seek mental health support. On the other hand, when social media interrupts sleep and physical activity or supports excessive social and physical comparison or maladaptive behaviors such as eating disorders or self-harm, social media can be harmful. Social media that pays excessive attention to behaviors related to beauty and appearance have been shown to result in poorer body image, disordered eating, and depression among adolescents.

The Surgeon General’s 2023 social media and Youth Mental Health Advisory’s Call to Action includes:

  • creating tech-free zones,
  • encouraging in-person interactions
  • modeling responsible social media behavior
  • educating youth about appropriate social media use.

There is also a push for digital and media literacy curricula in schools and with academic standards, so educators and students strengthen digital resilience – the ability to recognize, manage, and recover from online risks such as cyberbullying, harassment and abuse, and excessive media use.

Simple tips for youth include:

  • Take social media breaks.
  • Turn off notifications to limit distractions during studying and socializing.
  • Unfriend, unfollow, mute any social media accounts that do not show you respect or make you feel good about yourself.
  • Track screen time. Try to decrease the time.
  • Prioritize sleep, physical activity, and in-person interactions with family and friends.

Surgeon General’s 2023 Social Media, Youth, and Mental Health Advisory

American Psychology Association 2023 Health Advisory on Social Media Use in Adolescents

Cultivating Belonging: Alternatives to Suspensions for Nurturing School Communities

One of the most common misconceptions about schools becoming trauma-informed and resilience-focused is that the approach allows space for excused behaviors and creates opportunities for students to escape the consequences of their choices. However, this could not be further from the reality of the philosophy and fundamental pillars of creating a trauma-responsive disciplinary system.

Conventional disciplinary actions like suspensions often fail to address the underlying needs of students and families, jeopardizing their sense of belonging and connection within the school community. However, there are alternative strategies grounded in a trauma-informed, resilience-focused mindset that prioritizes support and growth over punitive measures. Research consistently underscores the harmful effects of suspensions on students’ academic performance, mental well-being, and prospects (Skiba et al., 2011). Rather than perpetuating cycles of disconnection, schools can adopt proactive interventions aimed at tackling the root causes of behavioral issues while fostering a culture of belonging.

One powerful alternative is the implementation of restorative justice practices. Emphasizing accountability, empathy, and the restoration of harm, restorative circles, mediation, and dialogue offer students opportunities to reflect on their actions, understand their impact on others, and collaboratively seek solutions that promote healing and reconciliation. Within a robust restorative practice implementation, the process would include proactive and universal structures to prevent harmful behaviors and reactive structures to repair and restore the harm once it is done. Having both ends of the restorative spectrum fully in place is key when aiming for the most impactful and effective implementation.

Moreover, trauma-informed approaches recognize that disruptive behaviors often stem from unresolved trauma or unmet social-emotional needs (SAMHSA, 2014). Introducing trauma-sensitive practices into the curriculum and school environment creates safe spaces where students feel supported, understood, and empowered to navigate challenges constructively. It empowers staff to apply a curious mindset to consider what is or has happened in a child’s world, contributing to their decision-making process. This includes considering which Universal Needs are being met and unmet (Belonging, Independence, Mastery, and Generosity) and considering the student’s private logic contributing to their emotional reaction which drives their thoughts as they consider their choices. Once we identify which areas of their Circle of Courage are broken, we can create plans to intentionally mend those broken Circles and meet their needs proactively as we foster healing.

When considering consequences to apply in response to a challenging experience within the school, one should always aim to:

  • Apply a curious mindset: Staff should consider the background and circumstances of the student before applying any consequences. This includes recognizing any potential trauma the student may have experienced, such as adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), socioeconomic challenges, or mental health issues. By understanding the context, administrators can approach the situation with empathy and tailor consequences accordingly.
  • Focus on Belonging: Instead of resorting solely to punitive measures, staff should prioritize building positive relationships with students. This can involve engaging in restorative practices such as open dialogue, active listening, and problem-solving discussions. Strong relationships foster trust and understanding, essential for effectively implementing restorative consequences. If exclusionary practices are required due to the nature of the incident, communication with the student and family, while they are being kept from school, is critical, along with scheduling a time to connect with the student upon their reintegration into school to reestablish that connection and sense of belonging.
  • Promoting Accountability and Growth: Restorative consequences should aim to hold students accountable for their actions while providing opportunities for reflection and personal growth. Staff can achieve this by involving students in decision-making and encouraging them to take ownership of their behavior. Restorative consequences should be either natural or logical and focus on repairing harm, restoring relationships, and helping students learn from their mistakes.
  • Encouraging Empowerment and Agency: Staff should empower students to actively participate in the restoration process. This can involve providing opportunities for students to express their perspectives, identify the impact of their actions, and participate in creating solutions. Students are more likely to feel invested in the outcome and motivated to make positive changes by fostering a sense of agency.
  • Prioritizing Support and Well-being: Administrators should consider the student’s well-being when implementing consequences. This includes providing appropriate support services, such as counseling, mentorship, or academic assistance, to address underlying issues contributing to the behavior. Restorative consequences should not exacerbate trauma but promote healing, resilience, and overall well-being.

By considering these factors, administrators can ensure that consequences are trauma-informed and restorative in nature, ultimately fostering a positive school climate and supporting the holistic development of students. Prioritizing alternatives to suspensions rooted in a trauma-informed, resilience-focused approach preserves the sense of belonging and connectedness of students and families and cultivates a school environment where every member feels valued, supported, and capable of overcoming challenges together. By investing in proactive interventions prioritizing growth, understanding, and community-building, schools can lay the foundation for a more inclusive, equitable, and nurturing learning environment for all.

The Vaping Epidemic

Vaping is a public health concern of epidemic size identified by several health agencies, including the United States Department of Health and Human Services, The Public Health Administration of Canada, the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 2.1 million youth currently use e-cigarettes.

What can you do as an adult to help prevent vaping and intervene if you know a child is vaping?

Be Curious

  • Ask children why they started vaping. Ask children what benefit they are currently receiving from vaping.

Many children start vaping because of peer pressure and the desire to fit in, or they may be interested in all the different flavored vaping liquids available to them. They come in fun flavors, have sleek, enticing packaging, and can be charged in a USB port. Youth who vape have been led to believe that vapes are much less harmful than cigarettes.

  • Consider a child’s experience of stress and trauma.

There is research linking stress and trauma exposure to the use of e-cigarettes. Children who have experienced the following are more likely to vape:

  • Emotional abuse and neglect
  • Exposure to verbal interpersonal violence
  • Household substance abuse
  • Household mental illness
  • Parental problems with police
  • Poverty

Meet unmet needs.

Trauma and stress experiences are often associated with children who do not have their needs met. Needs include:

  • Secure attachment to at least one caring, stable adult.
  • Belief that they possess an area of strength, talent, or ability.
  • Emotional awareness and the ability to manage emotions and behavior.
  • Feeling valuable to others.

If you identify an area with an unmet need, try to meet that need through experiences. This builds resilience.

  • Connect with the child. Notice the child. Let them know you are their champion.
  • Point out areas of strength and talent. Encourage the child to engage in experiences where they can practice their abilities.
  • Co-regulate and teach the child emotional awareness and ways to regulate their feelings and behavior when overwhelmed.
  • Provide children opportunities to help you or others.

Educate

Talk to children about why e-cigarettes are harmful to them. It’s never too late to quit. Some children are not aware that most vapes contain nicotine, which is highly addictive and can harm brain development. Exposure to nicotine negatively affects a child’s learning, mood, and attention. The aerosol from vapes can contain harmful and potentially harmful substances, including:

  • Cancer-causing chemicals
  • Heavy metals (nickel, tin, or lead)
  • Ultrafine particles
  • Flavorings with chemicals that are linked to severe heart and lung disease.
  • When addicted to nicotine, it is hard to stop.
  • Some kids turn to vaping to try to deal with stress, but vaping often becomes a source of stress.

We must remember that vaping, like all maladaptive behaviors, is a clue. It is a child’s way of communicating what they need most. For some children, the need is to feel a sense of belonging and connection among their friends. For others, vaping gives them something to do because they do not feel like they are good at anything else. Many believe vaping will help them regulate emotions that they have never been taught how to manage. Others may feel like offering a vape to a peer is a way to make them feel like they have value to others.

Building Resilient School Communities: Making PBIS Trauma-Informed and Resilience-Focused

Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) has been widely adopted in schools as a framework for promoting positive behavior and preventing disciplinary issues. However, as our understanding of trauma and its impacts on learning and behavior evolves, it becomes increasingly clear that as we implement PBIS in our schools, we must also adapt some the principles to become more trauma-informed and resilience-focused. By integrating trauma-informed practices and fostering resilience, schools can better meet the diverse needs of their students and create environments where all learners can thrive.

Trauma-informed PBIS recognizes that many students have experienced adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) or other traumatic events that can significantly impact their behavior and ability to learn. Traditional disciplinary approaches often exacerbate trauma by focusing solely on punishment rather than addressing the underlying causes of behavior. In contrast, a trauma-informed approach seeks to understand the root causes of students’ behavior and provides support and resources to help them cope and heal.

One key aspect of a trauma-informed approach to PBIS is creating a culture of safety and trust within the school community. This involves building strong relationships between students, teachers, and staff based on empathy, understanding, and respect. When students feel safe and supported, they are more likely to engage in positive behaviors and seek help when needed.

Additionally, trauma-informed PBIS emphasizes the importance of providing students with opportunities to develop resilience—the ability to bounce back from adversity and overcome challenges. Resilience is a critical skill that not only helps students navigate the ups and downs of academic life but also prepares them for success in the future.

So, how can schools make PBIS more trauma-informed and resilience-focused?

  • Professional Development: Teachers and staff need training on trauma-informed practices and how to recognize the signs of trauma in students. By increasing awareness and understanding, educators can better support students who have experienced trauma and create a more compassionate learning environment.
  • Culturally Responsive Practices: It’s essential to recognize that trauma manifests differently across cultures and communities. Schools must incorporate culturally responsive practices into their PBIS framework to ensure that all students feel seen, heard, and supported.
  • Universal, Group and Individualized Support Plans: Instead of applying a one-size-fits-all approach to behavior management, schools should develop a multitiered approach to supporting students social emotional and behavioral growth. Designing universal systems of support for all students to access such as a Reset Room, small group-based supports with a specialist focused on teaching new skills, and individualized support plans for students who may be experiencing symptoms of traumatic exposure ensure a system where all students are seen and supported equitably. All these plans should address students’ unique needs and strengths and provide them with the resources and support necessary for healing and growth.
  • Implement Sensory Supports: Recognize that students who have experienced trauma may be hypersensitive to sensory stimuli and may struggle with self-regulation. Incorporate sensory supports into the classroom environment, such as providing fidget tools, noise-canceling headphones, or designated quiet spaces where students can retreat if they feel overwhelmed. Be mindful of the classroom environment, minimizing unnecessary distractions and creating a calming atmosphere that promotes a sense of safety and predictability.
  • Community Partnerships: Schools cannot address trauma and build resilience alone. Collaboration with community organizations, mental health providers, and other stakeholders is crucial for creating a comprehensive support network for students and families.
  • Strength-Based Restorative Approach: Finally, schools should adopt a strength-based restorative approach to discipline that focuses on building on students’ strengths and assets rather than dwelling on deficits. By highlighting students’ resilience and capabilities, educators can empower them to overcome challenges and achieve their full potential. Within this approach we provide students an abundance of opportunities to hear what is great about them and specifically what they are doing well with, rather than focusing on what they are not doing well with. *Consider this as you begin to evaluate classroom color-coded behavior management systems and point systems to manage behaviors.

In conclusion, making PBIS more trauma-informed and resilience-focused requires a shift in mindset and practice. By prioritizing safety, trust, and support, schools can create environments where all students feel valued and empowered to succeed. By integrating trauma-informed practices into PBIS, we can build resilient communities where every student has the opportunity to thrive.

Supporting Staff Towards a Resilience Focused Mindset Shift

Mindset is the most critical step for making lasting changes within a school or organization aspiring to be trauma-informed and resilience-focused. We know that when trauma-informed, resilience-focused adults work within trauma-informed and resilience-focused systems, the well-being of all children increases. However, like with any change, people will experience various reactions to a shift in mindset. Keep in mind that for some, trauma-informed, resilience-focused best practices are the opposite of long-held beliefs driving the practices they have been using for decades. We often see people oscillating between responses such as frustration, blame, doubt, anger, and worry before moving to a place where they can start to learn and implement new approaches. It helps to understand four main types of people, their responses, and strategies to help support them when encouraging mindset shifts. The four types of people you might encounter are historians, resistors, fence-riders, and change leaders.

Types of people and how they respond to change.

Historians. Historians are people who reminisce. It is not that they are opposed to change, they are just not ready to stop doing what they have done for years. They may say things like, “It never used to be this way,” or “behavior is getting worse.” They are used to the way things have been, and even though they see areas for improvement, they are hesitant.

Resistors. Resistors are not enthusiastic about change in whatever form it takes. They will probably only change when given no choice. Resistors openly challenge change. They are convinced that changes will not work and will look for any example to prove they are correct. Resistors may try a strategy one time, and if it doesn’t go well, they will say, “See, I knew this would not help.”

Fence riders. Fence riders will make up most of the population in every organization. They tend to stay on the edge of trauma-informed discussions. They are not fully bought in, but they are not entirely opposed. They are generally open to change once they know it will optimize their performance. Fence riders see strategies work for someone else before buying into their value and benefit if you must select a person to spend time and energy with, choose a fence rider.

Change Leaders. Change leaders are forward thinkers who are prepared to lead the agenda rather than follow. For them, the future isn’t something to respond to but rather shape themselves. They jump in with both feet. They champion the mindset and are ready to implement strategies immediately. They are the first to adopt a new mindset and improve upon practices, so they become operationalized within an organization.

Once you know how a person responds to a proposed shift in mindset, you can try some strategies to support you. People have a fantastic capacity to change and do well when provided with education, strategies, practice, and feedback to help them along the way.

Strategies to encourage mindset shifts.

Historians

  • Build connections and relationships.
  • Get curious about why they wish to return to the past. “What works well about what you have always done?”
  • Ask them share stories and examples of what worked well in the past.
  • Invite them to discuss what worked and what did not work in the past.
  • Provide facts and research.
  • Avoid debates.
  • Give them time.

Resistors

  • They will need to see the historians and fence-riders using strategies before they agree to join in.
  • Start slow.
  • Invite to discussions.
  • Be consistent and patient.
  • Listen.
  • Mirror what they say. “I heard you say that you do not think the strategies will work.”

Fence riders

  • Build connections and relationships. Focus on fence-riders.
  • Set up individual meetings where they can ask questions and share any hesitations.
  • Provide opportunities for them to see strategies in action.
  • Provide them with various experiences for side-by-side modeling.

Change Leaders

  • Nurture this relationship.
  • Advocate for change leaders to chair committee meetings.
  • Invite them to discussions and ask them to speak and share experiences and examples.
  • Encourage them to help with system-wide policies and procedures.

Now that you understand the types of people, you might want to look at a roster of your staff members and identify each person according to their type. From there, you can create a strategy for implementation. All types will benefit from Starr’s trauma-informed, resilience-focused training.

Fostering Healing Communities: Implementing Trauma-Responsive Restorative Practices in Schools

Establishing safe and nurturing environments is paramount for the comprehensive growth of students. Educators across the world are working diligently to identify effective strategies to strengthen skills of empathy, conflict resolution, and interpersonal communication within their students. Acknowledging the widespread occurrence of trauma and its influence on the learning process, educators are progressively embracing Restorative Practices within their classrooms. This proactive and responsive approach aims to diminish conflicts, revive relationships, and mend harm within the classroom setting.

Understanding Trauma:
Before delving into Restorative Practices, it’s essential for educators to develop a deep understanding of trauma and its symptomology. Trauma can manifest in various ways, impacting a student’s ability to learn, engage, and form positive relationships. By adopting a trauma-informed lens, educators can create an empathetic and supportive environment that addresses the unique needs of each student.

Proactive Implementation of Restorative Practices:
Proactive restorative practices form a solid foundation for cultivating a positive learning environment by fostering strong connections and open communication. By establishing clear norms and agreements, educators empower students to take ownership of their behavior, resulting in increased accountability, reduced conflicts, and a sense of shared responsibility. This approach not only prevents disruptions but also contributes to a supportive classroom community that prioritizes the holistic well-being of students.

Three proactive strategies you can implement in your learning space include:

  1. Build Strong Connections:

   Begin by fostering strong teacher-student relationships. Regularly check in with students, create a safe space for them to express themselves, and validate their experiences. Strong connections act as a foundation for implementing restorative practices effectively.

  1. Classroom Routines and Agreements:

    Doing things ‘with’ one another instead of ‘to’ one another is a foundational pillar of the restorative work. Collaboratively establish classroom routines and agreements with students. This empowers them to take ownership of their learning environment, promoting a sense of agency and shared responsibility. When conflicts arise, refer back to these agreements as a guiding framework for resolution.

  1. Circles and Check-ins:

   Integrate circle practices into your routine. Circles provide a structured opportunity for students to share their thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Regular check-ins help educators stay attuned to the emotional well-being of their students, creating a preventative approach to potential conflicts while fostering a strong sense of belonging within the culture of the class.

Responsive Implementation of Restorative Practices:
Responsive restorative practices provide a structured and empathetic framework for addressing conflicts, allowing for deeper understanding and resolution. By facilitating restorative conferences that bring affected parties together, educators not only address the immediate issues but also promote a sense of community and accountability. This approach fosters an environment where conflicts are opportunities for learning, growth, and the restoration of relationships, contributing to a more resilient and harmonious classroom dynamic.

  1. Addressing Conflict with Empathy:

   When conflicts arise, approach them with empathy. Understand that behaviors may be rooted in trauma, and seek to uncover the underlying unmet needs first. Having a curious mindset about what may be happening or has happened in a student’s life is a critical component of a resilience focused and restorative mindset.  This approach shifts the focus from punitive measures to understanding, helping both educators and students develop a deeper awareness of one another.

  1. Restorative Conferencing:

   Instead of traditional disciplinary methods that often lead to exclusionary practices that break the sense of belonging between the student and their school community, opt for restorative conferences when appropriate. After doing pre-conferencing work to ensure safety and predictability of the conference, bring affected parties together in a safe space to discuss the impact of the conflict, explore feelings, and collaboratively work towards resolutions. This approach encourages accountability and promotes a sense of community.

  1. Teach Conflict Resolution Skills:

   Integrate conflict resolution skills into the daily curriculum. Equip students with the tools they need to navigate conflicts independently, empowering them to become active participants in the restoration process. Explicitly teaching, modeling, practicing, and reinforcing these skills the same way we would teach a reading or math lesson is necessary in developing the whole child.

Implementing Restorative Practices in a trauma-responsive way requires a commitment to building a community where empathy, understanding, and healing are prioritized. By proactively establishing a supportive environment and responding to conflicts with restorative approaches, educators can contribute to the creation of nurturing learning spaces where students can thrive academically and emotionally. Through these efforts, educators play a pivotal role in fostering healing communities within their classrooms and beyond.

Nurturing Minds: A Trauma-Informed Approach to Fostering Student-Educator Relationships

In the realm of education, the adage “students don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” holds a profound truth. As educators, our primary responsibility extends beyond the delivery of academic content; it encompasses the holistic well-being of our students. A trauma-informed approach recognizes the impact of adverse experiences on a student’s behavior and emphasizes the crucial role of positive relationships in fostering a conducive learning environment. With so many priorities fighting for our attention, it can feel overwhelming to “find the time” to foster a sense of belonging as a proactive approach to creating safe and supportive learning environments. Wondering where to start? Here a few ideas to try!

Cultivate a Safe and Inclusive Environment
Building a trauma-informed classroom starts with establishing an atmosphere where students feel safe and accepted. Recognize and validate diverse perspectives, backgrounds, and experiences. Foster a sense of belonging by incorporating inclusive practices that celebrate individuality. A safe environment is the bedrock upon which trust and connection can flourish.

Quick strategies: teambuilding brain breaks like the name game, engaging in an interest inventory, and creating a shared classroom calendar of upcoming events that are important to your students, writing a co-created classroom charter everyone agrees to of how to treat others.

Practice Active Listening
Engaging in active listening is a powerful tool for understanding and connecting with your students. Take the time to truly hear their thoughts, concerns, and experiences. By demonstrating empathy and understanding, educators send a powerful message that students’ voices are valued. This validates their emotions and builds a foundation of trust.

Quick strategies: open ended journal prompts, inviting students to sign-up for lunch with their teacher, attend extra curricular activities your students are involved in, join a student(s) at their table for lunch, and leverage student conferencing as a chance to check in with how they are doing emotionally prior to talking about academics.

Be Consistent and Predictable
Consistency provides a sense of stability that is especially crucial for students who may have experienced trauma. Establish clear expectations, routines, and consequences. Predictability helps alleviate anxiety, allowing students to focus on learning rather than navigating uncertainty. Consistency fosters a sense of safety, which is paramount for building trusting relationships and promoting positive behavioral outcomes.

Quick strategies: implement proactive classroom circles or meetings regularly, utilize restorative circles in response to solving issues that arise, elicit student feedback when creating classroom norms together, establish classroom routines and rituals that you teach, model, practice and reinforce, and focus on what students are doing well before you have to correct what needs improvement.

Model Healthy Coping Mechanisms
Educators serve as role models for their students. Demonstrating healthy coping mechanisms for stress and adversity can positively influence students’ own strategies for managing challenges. Share your own experiences and coping mechanisms, creating an environment that encourages open dialogue about emotions and self-care. This vulnerable two-way communication helps establish trust and authentic connection between all involved.

Quick strategies: model your own body map, name when you are feeling frustrated or overwhelmed and demonstrate how taking a deep breath helps you, share personal experiences of age-appropriate trials and tribulations that helped you recognize your inner strength, and find moments of joy to share with your students to highlight positive emotions as well.

Collaborate with Support Systems
Building relationships extends beyond the classroom walls. Collaborate with parents, guardians, and other support systems in a student’s life. Share insights about a student’s strengths, challenges, and progress. This collaborative effort reinforces a unified front, ensuring that the student receives consistent support both at home and in the educational setting.

Quick strategies: positive outreach to family members via phone/email/text/note highlighting what their child did well with today, inviting families into the classroom to engage in learning alongside the class, ensure diversity in classroom celebrations that represent the cultures of your students, invite students to bring artifacts from home to display or present to the class, send pictures of their child excelling at something home, and provide regular newsletters to families informing them of important information regarding the classroom learning.

Prioritizing relationships with students as a proactive approach to foster characteristics of resilience and support positive behavior is not just an educational strategy; it is a commitment to the well-being of the next generation. By embracing trauma-informed practices, educators contribute to the creation of a nurturing environment where students feel valued, understood, and empowered to thrive academically and emotionally. In these connections lie the seeds of positive behavior and a brighter future for all.

 

Behavior is your clue: Understanding the window of tolerance

Behavior is communication. Even though adults often tell children to “use your words,” the reality is that children (and adults, too) often struggle to find the words to describe what they are feeling and what they want or need. This is especially true when stress is high. This means that being hungry, tired, bored, overstimulated, worried, scared, angry, or just plain frustrated makes language difficult. For this reason, look to behavior as a clue to help you understand what a child is currently experiencing.

For example, if a child is cooperative, engaged in play or learning, pleasant in nature, and finds it easy to use words to talk about what they are doing or to ask or answer questions, these are all behavior clues that the child is well-balanced. They are not too tired, hungry, bored, overstimulated, worried, scared, angry, or frustrated. We can say here the child is in their window of tolerance.

When not well-balanced and perhaps tired, bored, scared, or worried, you might see behaviors that indicate hypo-arousal, like clinging, whining, inattentiveness, refusing to do things, and appearing foggy and tired. When a child is hungry, overstimulated, angry, or frustrated, you might see behaviors that indicate hyper-arousal, such as yelling, fighting, defiance, impulsiveness, aggression, and an inability to sit still. When in a state of hypo- or hyper-arousal, a child is not in the window of tolerance.

Emotional awareness is the ability to notice being in or out of the window of tolerance.

If you notice the child is not in their window of tolerance and does not yet have their own emotional awareness, it means that the child needs you to prompt them by saying something like, It seems like you aren’t feeling balanced. Let’s take a minute to check in and see what might be going on. How does your body feel? What might your body need to feel more balanced?”

This is a time for a pause. Listen to the child, provide them with suggestions if they are unable to voice how they feel in their body. Perhaps ask them to point to the part of their body that feels most stress or tense.

“It seems like you might need to take a pause. It is okay; let’s pause to see what you need to feel better.”  “I am noticing you are (clinging, arguing, etc.) and when we don’t feel balanced our body can get tight, hot, tired, or even filled with a lot of energy.”

When a child notices they are not in the window of tolerance, they can learn to tell you they need a pause. If not, the adult can encourage a pause for the child, letting them know that this does not mean they are in trouble; it means you are helping them to notice their body is not in balance.

Emotional awareness is something children need to learn and practice. Children need repetitive opportunities to be made aware of when their bodies are and are not in the window of tolerance. Help them describe how their body sends messages to help them know if they are in or out of their window of tolerance. Behavior is a clue that will help you notice when a child is dysregulated. Instead of focusing on the behavior, get curious with the child about the signals their body is sending to them.

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Circle of Courage

Looking through a Circle of Courage Lens: Why the “other kids” are not the “other kids”

It is bound to happen. In a school, a daycare, a sports practice – maybe even in the middle of a religious service. A child – of any age – will misbehave, perhaps melt down, and even experience a crisis because, for any number of reasons, they cannot manage their overwhelming feelings. Their reactions in these moments can be intense, scary, aggressive, or destructive.  Trauma-informed, resilience-focused adults can help support and regulate a child when this happens, using de-escalation and co-regulation tools and strategies. This is helpful for the child who is in crisis.

Other children and adults, however, often wonder, “What about the other kids?” This is a fair question that is prompted by additional concerns such as:

  • Is it all right for children to witness others struggling? Will it traumatize them?
  • Who will attend to and care for the children not currently in crisis?
  • Why don’t children who act out and cause disruptions have more consequences?
  • It isn’t fair that some children have more attention from the child-caring adult in charge than others.

Let’s look at how we might view these scenarios through the lens of the Circle of Courage resilience model. Throughout, the questions to the above frequently asked questions will be addressed.

Adults can prepare children in their care for these scenarios so everyone knows what they can expect—telling children what might happen, how the adult will respond, how the adult will prepare them for this kind of experience, and what will happen afterward.

Belonging.
All children need to feel a sense of connection and belonging – no matter what. It should not depend on their willingness or ability to be a particular person. Belonging isn’t a privilege but a fundamental human right (Shalaby, 2017). Children don’t get traumatized because they are hurt; they get traumatized because they are alone with that hurt (Mate, 2021).

A script for the adult:
Everyone struggles from time to time. Depending upon what is happening in your life or what has happened, along with your ability to cope, will depend on how you respond to certain situations. This does not make you bad or good – it just is. Chances are, we will experience someone in our group having a hard time – this could be a hard hour or even a hard day. I want you to know that if that happens, I will do what I can to help that person feel better. I will not be mad at that person, and they will not get in trouble. If they are struggling – it means that they need my help. I will ensure you all have a chance to learn and practice what you can do if something like this happens. When someone is struggling, things might get loud and unstructured, but I will do everything I can to keep all of us safe. I may be able to do that independently, or I might call another adult to help me. Later, when things settle down, we will always have an opportunity to talk together about what happened if you want to. We can do that as a group or individually. Even if one of us disrupts our room, everyone will always be welcomed back when calm and settled.

Mastery.
We cannot assume that all children have learned to regulate their emotions and behaviors. Children must have several opportunities to learn and practice emotional awareness and regulation.  Just like learning to read and solve math problems, children must be taught skills and engage in experiences to try out what they have learned.

A script for the adult:
We will spend some time practicing techniques to help relax our bodies. We will practice different ways to slow down our breathing, close our eyes, imagine a happy memory, color designs, draw pictures, or write down our thoughts and feelings. All of us should practice how to calm ourselves down. I want you to feel good at calming yourself down, but I know this isn’t easy for everyone – it takes time and practice.

Independence.
Children feel safe when they know what to expect and when they are given choices about how to respond in potentially disruptive situations.

I want you to know that this room might not feel very calm if a child struggles. However, even if it is noisy or chaotic, please know I will take care of that. I will keep my voice even and stay in control.  You can do what you need to do for yourself and others around you. Maybe you will try one of the relaxation techniques we practice. You may find that you want to go out into the hallway; you can do that; please stay close to the wall by our room. You may find that you want to put your head down on your desk, which is all right, too. Maybe you will want to sit with one of your friends. You have a choice about how best to take care of yourself.

I know it might not seem fair for those of you who are not disruptive and stay calm most of the time – you might think, why don’t you spend so much time with me, or why doesn’t that person get into more trouble? I understand why you may feel that way. Nevertheless, I have learned that what is fair is not always equal – some of us need more support than others. You know, I would need a lot of support picking apples from a tree because I am not very tall – I might need a stool (or a ladder), but someone else might be able to reach up and pick apples easily because of their height. Is it fair that I get a stool, but the other person does not? The other person does not need a stool, silly, but I do! So, this is the same as staying calm. Some of us find it more difficult than others, so some need more support. That is how it works – if someone needs something, we try to give it to them. As far as consequences are concerned, I think that if a person has a tough time, that is enough pain, and it does not do anyone any good to make them feel worse by punishing them on top of it. I will instead help teach them to better manage a situation next time with additional strategies and practice. I will support them.

Generosity.
We all have difficulty managing our emotions and behavior occasionally. This can be especially difficult when going through a particularly stressful time or have a history of very stressful experiences in our lives. We feel valuable when we can have empathy for and provide support to others.

A script for the adult:
Try to understand that the person struggling is not trying to be “bad,” but rather, they cannot manage their emotions and behavior and need help. You may find that you want to be with one of your friends and find a place in our room where you can sit together while I attend to the child who needs me, and if that is the case, please join your friend. If you are someone who feels good about your ability to calm yourself down and you find others having a hard time with what is happening in the room, please help your friends if they need support. I appreciate that we will all look out for one another.

There are no “other kids”; there are all kids. Providing unconditional connection and belonging, tools to help children manage their behavior and emotions, the agency to make choices when faced with difficult situations, and permission to use their value to support others can empower all children.


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References
Shalaby, C. (2017). Troublemakers lessons in freedom young children in school. New York, New Press.
Mate, G. (2021). The Wisdom of Trauma. Zaya Benazzo. Science and Nonduality.

    Nurturing Yourself: A Trauma-Responsive Approach to Post-Holiday Self-Care by Practicing Resilience

    The holiday season, with its festive cheer and joyful gatherings, often marks a time of celebration and togetherness. However, for many individuals, the holidays can also bring about stress, triggering memories of past traumas and exacerbating existing emotional wounds. As the holiday decorations come down and the new year begins, it’s crucial to shift our focus towards self-care, especially from a trauma-responsive perspective as we continue with our daily lives working to become the best versions of ourselves.

    Acknowledging and Validating Sensations & Emotions

    Trauma can resurface during the holidays due to various triggers, such as family dynamics, social expectations, or reminders of past events. Recognizing and validating these bodily sensations and emotions is the first step towards self-care. Understand that it’s okay to feel a range of emotions, and giving yourself permission to experience and express them is essential for healing.

    The first step is often self-auditing and keeping a record to understand the full picture. There are many ways to do this, but we recommend our simple Distress Indicators worksheet, featured in 10 Steps to Create a Trauma-Informed, Resilient School.


    Download your free Distress Indicators worksheet

    Creating Safe Spaces

    After the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, carving out safe and comforting spaces becomes imperative. This could mean designating a cozy corner at home, finding solace in nature, or establishing boundaries with others. A trauma-responsive self-care approach emphasizes the importance of feeling secure in your surroundings to foster healing and recovery.

    Mindful Practices and Grounding Techniques

    Engaging in mindful practices and grounding techniques can be powerful tools for those navigating trauma. Techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or grounding exercises help anchor individuals in the present moment, offering a respite from intrusive thoughts and memories to find even the smallest moments of joy to feel a sense of relief. 

    Connecting with Supportive Networks

    Isolation can intensify the impact of trauma on our brains and bodies. Actively seeking connection with understanding and supportive individuals is crucial for post-holiday self-care. This could involve reaching out to friends, family, or even joining support groups where experiences can be shared in a safe and non-judgmental environment.

    Prioritizing Physical Well-Being

    Trauma can take a toll on both mental and physical health. Prioritizing self-care from a trauma-responsive perspective includes paying attention to your physical well-being. Learning to listen to your body is a great first step in the healing process. Getting adequate sleep, eating nourishing meals, and engaging in regular exercise contribute significantly to overall wellness and resilience.

    Seeking Professional Guidance

    For those navigating complex trauma, seeking professional guidance is a crucial aspect of self-care. Trauma-informed therapists or counselors can provide a safe space for processing emotions and developing coping strategies tailored to individual needs.

    Conclusion

    The period following the holidays is a crucial time to shift focus inward and prioritize self-care, especially for those with a trauma history. By acknowledging emotions, creating safe spaces, engaging in mindful practices, fostering connections, prioritizing physical well-being, and seeking professional support when needed, individuals can embark on a journey towards healing and resilience. Remember, self-care is not selfish; it’s a vital component of reclaiming control and building a foundation for a healthier, more empowered future.

    Resilience I Spy

    Finding the Circle of Courage in Action

    Start the New Year with a focus on resilience by teaching your students about the Circle of Courage. Then, challenge them to eye-spy the resilience model’s components in action. 

    Circle of Courage: A Model of Resilience

    This resilience model is easy to teach students of all ages.

    We all have four universal needs. When these needs are met, we feel our best. But we will not feel our best if even one of the four universal needs is unmet. When even one is missing, we might feel sad, frustrated, worried, or angry. Let me tell you about the four universal needs. 

    The first one is Belonging – we feel good when we feel like we belong. This can be at school with friends or at home with our families. We feel connected to other people when we feel a sense of belonging. 

    The next universal need is Mastery. We feel good when we can accomplish and are good at something – this can be like solving a math problem, learning a new skill while playing a sport, or drawing a picture that makes us proud. 

    Independence is the third universal need. This need is met when we control our emotions and behavior. This doesn’t mean we don’t get upset – it just means if we get upset, we know what to do to help ourselves feel better, so we don’t lose our temper or misbehave. 

    The last universal need is generosity. We get this need met when we feel helpful and valuable to others. 

    To review, we all need to feel like we belong or are connected to others, are good at something, can stay in control of our emotions and behavior even when we are upset, and feel like we are valuable to other people.

    Offer your students an I Spy Challenge

    As a fun way to start the new year, I am challenging you to a game of eye-spy. In this game, I want you to try to notice your classmates and me when we are getting any one or more of our universal needs met or helping another person obtain one of their needs.  

    Whenever you notice the Circle of Courage in action, you can raise your hand and say, “Eye-Spy”. Then, you can tell us what you saw. For example, when a classmate greets another student when they enter the room by saying, hello, they are making that person feel like they belong. If a student helps another student learn how to solve a tricky math problem, they demonstrate mastery. When a student asks for a break instead of yelling or getting angry, they are showing us independence. And, lastly, if I ask a student to bring something down to the office for me, they are being generous. 

    Ask students to give you more examples. You can add the examples to a whiteboard, so they are easy for students to reference. Then, start the challenge. You might want to have one or two students keep track of how many universal needs in action are spotted by using a tally for each.  You can play along too. Set a goal for the class for a total number of universal needs spotted during the day. Reinforce the importance of all students getting their universal needs met to feel their best. When all students are aware of others and strive to help meet their needs, the overall classroom culture and climate will improve. 

    Stress and Trauma in Disguise

    Jack, a 3rd grader, has difficulty paying attention to the teacher and staying in his seat in the classroom. He often blurts out answers without raising his hand and never stops fidgeting. He looks so much like he has ADHD. 

    Susie, a 6th grader, never smiles these days. She keeps mostly to herself and barely submits her assignments. When asked if she is alright, she shrugs and replies, “I’m fine.” Maybe she is depressed? 

    Mary is a kindergartener. She is always very jumpy and nervous. Her hands sometimes shake. She spends much time looking out the windows and at the classroom door. When her friend was late last week, she started crying. She was worried her friend may have gotten killed in a car accident. I wonder if Mary has anxiety. 

    Stress and trauma result in emotional, behavioral, and physical symptoms and reactions that are often mistaken for other mental health disorders. However, emotions, behavior, physical symptoms, and responses are often clues of acute or chronic stress. When we observe these symptoms and reactions and are not curious about their origin, we can easily mistake them for other mental health disorders. This is why many children are labeled or misdiagnosed with a mental health disorder when stress or adverse life events are to blame. 

    Examples of emotional symptoms include worry, mood swings, crying, clinginess, anger, overreactions to minor things, isolation from friends, sadness, and feeling hopeless. These symptoms and reactions, at first glance, look very similar to those of depression. 

    Behavior-related examples observed in stressed and traumatized include withdrawing from friends, changes from regular eating patterns, overusing substances such as drugs or alcohol, finding it hard to make decisions, inattention, lack of focus and concentration, trouble remembering things, fighting, arguing and defiance, difficulty sitting still or calming down. Many of these behaviors fit the criteria for ADHD.

    Lastly, physical symptoms include headaches, stomachaches, nightmares, nervousness, feelings of panic, dizziness, fatigue, chest pain, and trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. These are certainly like those present in anxiety disorders. 

    All these symptoms and reactions are expected in the first hours, days, and a couple weeks following exposure to stress and trauma. The number of overlapping symptoms and reactions between stress, trauma, and mental health disorders requires us to be careful not to make assumptions.

    This is why it is so important to understand stress and how it impacts children. Then, curiosity can help you explore what the child needs most. When curious about observed symptoms and reactions, you might think, “I wonder if something is happening with this child? What is driving the symptoms, reactions – the emotions and behaviors I see – or even the physical complaints this child tells me about?” 

    Jack is hypervigilant because he lives in a violent apartment complex where fights break out regularly. 

    Susie’s grandmother recently died, and her grandmother was her primary caretaker. Mary is experiencing symptoms of depression because she is grieving the loss of her grandmother. 

    Mary witnessed a car accident on her way to school last year, and she is constantly worried someone she loves is going to end up in a car accident.

    Children’s Grief and Loss

    Grief and Loss

    Grief is the acute pain that accompanies loss. Grief reflects what we love and for this reason, it can feel overwhelming and all-encompassing. Any loss can cause grief. We often think about death when we hear the word grief. Still, losses can also include living losses like separations, absences, and departures that are very common with divorce, estrangement from a family member, and having a loved one who is in the military or incarcerated. The loss of connection such as when a person you are attached to becomes chronically ill, struggles with mental health issues or addiction. We must also consider the loss of pets and animals and the experience of moving homes, schools, or even teachers when a child moves from one grade to the next. 

    When a person experiences grief they usually report both emotional and physical symptoms. These symptoms and reactions should be normalized and validated. Say, “What you are feeling is normal considering what you have experienced.” There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Grief is individual and unpredictable. Even two children grieving the same loss might respond differently. Let children know it is alright to laugh, play, and have fun simultaneously as they are experiencing grief symptoms and reactions. 

    • Sadness and crying.
    • Loss of appetite. 
    • Trouble sleeping.
    • Headaches and stomachaches. 
    • Disinterest in activities or socializing or may want to be surrounded by people and with many activities. 
    • Fatigue. 
    • Difficulty finding the words to express feelings. 
    • Regression.
    • Anger.
    • Numbness. 
    • Non-linear healing (Feel alright one day or hour but not the next). 

    Grief and Trauma

    Prolonged, persistent, and complicated grief symptoms and reactions might indicate the experience is traumatic for the child. Sadness following grief is undoubtedly normal but when the reaction turns into one that appears more like terror, that is a trauma response. Similarly, it is typical for grieving children to be mad but when that anger becomes aggressive or assaultive, that too is a trauma response. Another indicator of a trauma response is when a child expresses the death or loss is their fault. For example, “If I wasn’t misbehaving while my granny was home with me, she would not have had a heart attack and died.” A shift in identity is also something to watch. In grief, the identity of the child remains intact but when a child’s identity becomes shifted or distorted as a result of the loss, that is more of a trauma response. For example, “kids with incarcerated parents don’t go to college.” 

    Helping Someone through Grief

    • Be patient and listen. Let the grieving person be seen and heard. If you don’t know what to say, that is alright, just be there and listen. Ask what you might do to help them feel even a tiny bit better.
    • Be nurturing. Offer kindness and care. Sensory support is helpful. Your presence, a glass of water or a snack, a blanket or plush animal to snuggle with can be very comforting. Downtime might be more necessary while grieving. 
    • Offer consistency. Boundaries and expectations should be kept in place however, they may require some flexibility during grief. Try to implement a routine so the child feels a sense of predictability.
    • Talk about the loss whether it is a person, place, or experience. Ask questions but don’t demand answers. Invite the child to share memories of who or what they are grieving if they wish to do so. 
    • Offer opportunities for expression. Children will experience relief when they can play, listen to or dance to music, draw, paint, or create other forms of art with simple supplies like paper plates, chenille stems, beads, fabric squares and buttons. 

    Giving and Gratitude: Experiences to lower stress and boost happiness in adults and children 

    Benefits of Giving and Gratitude

    The holiday season is upon us. During this time, there will be many opportunities to experience giving and gratitude both of which provide many benefits for health and overall well-being. This is essential knowing the stress today’s adults and children face. When we give and when we receive, we lower stress and boost happiness. 

    Giving time, energy, expertise, or even tangible things to others prompts the brain to release dopamine, a feel-good hormone. Giving, also known as generosity, provides the experience of feeling valuable to others. A sense of value is so important that Starr’s Circle of Courage resilience model includes generosity as a key universal need for all people, regardless of age, to feel whole. 

    Generosity is beneficial for the giver and when we are on the receiving end of generosity, we experience gratitude, also a well-being booster. Perhaps someone offers support, nature provides a beautiful sunny day before the weather turns cold, or a neighbor shares a baked good. The feeling we have in these moments is often described as calm, content, and grateful. Research supports experiencing gratitude makes adults and children happier overall and results in better sleep, less physical complaints, and an improved ability to cope with stress. 

    Giving and Gratitude in Action

    When adults teach and model giving and gratitude, children learn how to engage in each. The more opportunities a child has over time, the more giving and gratitude are part of their lives. And, as adults teach and model, they also reap the benefits.  However, just saying, “thanks” or dropping canned goods off at a food drive isn’t quite enough. There are three components necessary to gain the rewards associated with experiencing generosity and gratitude. These components include notice, feel, and response. 

    Here are some examples to help teach, model and practice embracing the experiences of giving and gratitude. As you read through and discuss each example, take the time to be present with how more awareness of what is happening allows a fuller experience of both giving and gratitude. 

    Giving in Action: Notice, Respond, Feel

    Example: Canned food drive at school 

    Notice:  There is a canned food drive at school. 

    Respond: I want to donate food to school. I bring canned goods to the food drive. 

    Feel: Helping others in need makes me feel good. My body feels happy, and I am proud of how I can do my part to help. 


    Example: Offering a friend help with schoolwork. 

    Notice: My friend is struggling in Math.

    Respond: I offer my friend help with Math problems that I understand. 

    Feel: I feel valuable because I was able to help support my friend. I feel more connected to my friend and good about myself for what I did to help. 

    Gratitude in Action: Notice, Feel, Respond

    Example: Being included in lunch.

    Notice:  She invited me to sit with her at lunch.

    Feel: I feel like I belong, and she likes me. I feel safe, connected, and calm.

    Respond: I smile and say, “Yes”.


    Example: A teacher being kind. 

    Notice: I was late to school. My teacher asked, “are you feeling alright – do you need anything?”

    Feel: My teacher noticed me and cares enough about me to ask how I am. This calms down my body and makes me feel safe to ask her if I need support. 

    Respond: I thank my teacher and tell her I will let her know if I need anything. 

    Giving and Gratitude Activities

    Talk to children about giving and gratitude or engage in one or more of the following activities. Remember to take time to identify the generous gesture, how it makes the giver and the receiver feel and how both respond.

    • Affirmation cards 
      • Color in affirmation cards that say things such as “I am thankful” or “It feels good to be kind.” 
    • Giving thank you notes, cards are artwork to others. 
      • Create thank you notes or cards with words or pictures for friends and colleagues. 
    • Giving and Gratitude Trees 
      • Draw a large tree on a board. Cut out paper leaves and write words or images on them that are examples of ways to give or things to be grateful for on them. Post them on the tree.  
    • My strengths can be used to help others. 
      • Create a list of strengths. What are you good at? As you look at the list, how can you use these strengths to help others who might benefit from your assistance. Put one of your ideas into action. 
    • ABC’s of gratitude 
      • Identify words for each letter of the alphabet that describe ways to be generous or give to others. Do the same with words that describe things, people, or experiences for which you are grateful.
    • Classroom meeting or circle 
      • During classroom meetings or circles, spend time talking about what generosity and gratitude means and how both can be experienced. 

    Take advantage of this time of year to experience the benefits both giving, and gratitude can provide. There will be countless opportunities all around you. Whether you are giving or receiving or helping children as they give and receive, pause, and notice, feel, and respond. 

    Dysregulation and Behavior: The Roots of Teacher Burnout

    In the demanding world of education, teacher burnout has become a critical issue, often rooted in the complex interplay of dysregulation and challenging student behavior. By understanding the underlying factors of these challenges, we aim to offer insights and strategies to support educators in navigating daily life in their classrooms, ultimately fostering a more sustainable and fulfilling teaching environment.

    Teacher Burnout Epidemic

    More than 70% of educators in a national survey report that students are misbehaving more now than ever. The most common unwanted student behaviors they observe in their classrooms include emotional and behavioral outbursts, constant fidgeting, nonstop chatter, inattention, getting out of seats to leave the classroom and defiance. The National Center for Education Statistics cites worsening student behavior as a reason for teacher burnout. More than four in 10 K-12 school professionals in the U.S. (44%) say they “always” or “very often” feel stressed at work, outpacing all other industries nationally making educators among the most burned-out groups in the U.S. workforce. 

    Student Mental Health Crisis

    Managing a classroom of students has always been a challenge but over the past few years, this job has become increasingly more difficult. The number of youths experiencing mental health symptoms and reactions such as anxiety, depression, attention problems and behavior dysregulation has increased. Mental health disorders since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic have continued to rise among children as well as adults.  Stressful and traumatic experiences related to the pandemic along with constant exposure to racial tension and political conflict have remained constant. Child maltreatment, domestic violence, and the overuse of substances such as alcohol and drugs have also increased. In 2021 a National Emergency in Child and Adolescent Mental Health was declared by the American Academy of Pediatrics. This declaration comes with reports of a severe shortage in the number of mental health practitioners available to meet the demand.

    Emotional Dysregulation in Kids: The driver of misbehavior

    Often, what is observed as defiance, deliberate or intentional misbehavior may not be what it appears. It is a student’s best attempt to regulate their nervous systems. When students experience a significant amount of stress over a prolonged period, their bodies become dysregulated, thus over-active nervous systems. At times the need for movement can appear disrespectful and not aligned with classroom norms and rules. A dysregulated body cannot sit still as it demands a discharge of energy and activation from the stress overload. A dysregulated body, in survival mode, will do everything it can to regain balance even if that involves a fight or flight response.

    • An overwhelmed student can seem inattentive but really be worried about what happened at home the night before.  
    • An angry student appears to start unnecessary conflict with a teacher or another student however, they couldn’t control their body’s response to a threatening look or tone of voice. 
    • A student elopes from the classroom – they seem not to care but really it is their way of avoiding what they perceive as intimidating and scary.  
    • A student refuses to complete an assignment then you learn they were afraid of looking dumb in front of their classmates.  

    How to Heal a Dysregulated Nervous System to Return to Learning

    When educators view unwanted behaviors through a lens of being trauma-informed they can see that the real problem is rooted in a student who is dysregulated rather than a student who is “bad” and needs punishment. Dysregulated students need to feel safe by experiencing a sense of connection with a caring adult who is curious about what they need most. Reframing behaviors from what is observed to what the behavior is communicating can make all the difference. Behavior can be a clue to help understand unmet needs such as dysregulation – difficulty with emotional and or behavioral control. Giving up a need to know exactly what to do when unable to control classroom behavior and shifting to a mindset of curiosity can help.

    Starr’s Trauma-Informed, Resilience-Focused Behavior Support Plan will help you become curious about the function of the behavior you observe, assess potential unmet needs for students and develop a support plan to help meet their needs. 


    References:

    American Academy of Pediatrics (2021). A declaration from the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Children’s Hospital Association: Retrieved November 10, 2023, from https://www.aap.org/en/advocacy/child-and-adolescent-healthy-mental-development/aap-aacap-cha-declaration-of-a-national-emergency-in-child-and-adolescent-mental-health/

    Marken, S. & Agrawal, S. (2023). K-12 workers have highest burnout rate in the U.S. Gallup Poll Education. Retrieved November 10, 2023, from https://news.gallup.com/poll/393500/workers-highest-burnout-rate

    National Center for Education Statistics. (2023). Teachers’ Reports of Disruptive Student Behaviors and Staff Rule Enforcement. Condition of Education. U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences. Retrieved [date], from https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator/a11

    young black girl sitting in calming corner in classroom

    Calming Corners: How to Implement in your Classroom

    In the bustling world of education, where students and teachers are constantly navigating through a whirlwind of learning activities, introducing a calming corner can be an effective solution for many student needs. As reported in Starr’s Resilient Schools Project whitepaper, this is paramount to learning. While trying to individualize the instruction and social emotional supports for every student, the universal approach to creating a safe space for all students to learn is easily overlooked, but is truly the essential component of a resilience focused classroom.  

    The Importance of Calming Corners

    The modern classroom is a dynamic space filled with diverse personalities, learning styles, and energy levels. While excitement and engagement are integral to the learning process, moments of stress, anxiety, or overstimulation can also arise; having a dedicated space where students an retreat to find peace and regain their calmness is essential. This is where ‘Calming Corners’ come into play, not just as a physical space but as a transformative approach to classroom management and student well-being. ‘Calming Corners’ serve as dedicated spaces where students can take a moment away from the day’s demands, offering a retreat to regain composure and recenter their thoughts and emotions. 

    The Benefits of Calming Corners

    Children process a vast amount of sensory information daily. For some, this can be overwhelming, leading to sensory overload and emotional outbursts. Calming Corners provides a sensory-friendly area that helps students filter out the chaos and focus on regaining their emotional balance. The sensory benefits are countless but include: 

    • Visual Calm: Soft lighting and muted colors can reduce visual stimulation.  
    • Auditory Relief: Quiet spaces or the use of headphones can dampen the overwhelming noise of a busy classroom.  
    • Tactile Engagement: Access to stress balls or soft textures can offer comfort and grounding.  
    • Mindfulness Activities: ‘Time-in’ time is a great opportunity for students to do some breathing or movement to return to the center.  
    • Proprioceptive Input: Cozy furniture or weighted blankets can provide pressure that is calming to many children.  

    Designing an Effective Calming Corner

    Creating the perfect calming corner for your classroom doesn’t require a large budget or an expansive space. One of the best starting points to planning out a Calming Corner for your students is to include them in the process! Consider adding questions about what helps them feel peaceful, what type of objects help them focus, what colors make them feel calm, etc., during your next Circle Meeting. This involvement fosters a sense of ownership and ensures that the space resonates with the unique needs of the class. Here are some additional ideas and tools to help get you started:  

    • Selecting the Right Location: Choose a quiet, low-traffic area within the classroom. Ideally, the calming corner should be easily accessible but not in the midst of the main learning space. 
    • Creating a Cozy & Private Atmosphere: Use soft cushions, blankets of different weights and texture, and rugs to make the space inviting. Consider incorporating elements of nature, such as plants or nature-themed artwork, to evoke a sense of tranquility. Using bookshelves or room dividers is helpful to provide a sense of seclusion without complete isolation.  
    • Incorporating Sensory Tools – Provide a variety of sensory tools that support the students’ sensory systems.  
      • Visual: lava lamps, liquid timers, or calming jars  
      • Tactile: such as stress balls, fidget spinners, playdough or textured items.  
      • Auditory: headphones with calming music or nature sounds or noise canceling head phones 
      • Olfactory: a diffuser with calming scents such as lavender, peppermint candies to smell or eat, essential oil-infused rice bins or pillows 
      • These tools can engage different senses and help students channel excess energy or tension. 
    • Encourage Emotional Literacy – Introduce mindfulness activities, such as guided breathing exercises, calming music, or feelings charts. These visuals help children to identify and articulate their emotions while also providing them with step-by-step guides of how to practice these new skills. All of these resources can aid in relaxation and promote mindfulness. 
    • Personalization and Student Involvement – Incorporate art supplies to encourage expression through drawing or coloring, offering books about feelings can offer both comfort and learning. 
    • Maintain the Space – Keeping the area tidy and inviting on a regular basis will ensure it stays organized, warm, and inviting. Regularly rotating out the tools and resources will help to maintain the student’s interest. 

    Calming Corners are more than just a space; they are a testament to the evolving understanding of children’s emotional needs in an educational setting. In the ever-evolving education landscape, incorporating calming corners represents a thoughtful and proactive approach to student well-being. By acknowledging the diverse emotional needs of students and providing them with a dedicated space to navigate their feelings, educators can create a more holistic and supportive learning environment. As the saying goes, stressed brains can’t learn, and in the calm corners of our classrooms, students can find the balance needed to thrive academically and emotionally. 

    Empathy in Schools: The Brain Science and Its Crucial Role in Building Belonging

    Empathy, often described as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another, is not just a soft skill. It’s deeply rooted in our brain’s architecture and plays a pivotal role in trauma-informed, resilience-focused schools. Let’s dive into the fascinating world of empathy and its importance in the classroom.

    The Brain Science Behind Empathy

    “I feel your pain” is more than just a figure of speech. We can feel the pain of others in a modified form. Brain scans have demonstrated the existence of mechanism inside of the brain that allows individuals who are observers to unconsciously experience activations inside of their brain that mimic the same activations in the brain of the person they are observing. For example, someone watches another person receive an allergy shot in the back of the arm. When the observer watches the patient get poked by the needle on the arm, the same motor and sensory areas of the observer’s brain are activated that are activated in the person receiving the poke – just to a lesser degree. This makes it possible to empathize with another person but not become overwhelmed by their personal distress.  Brain cells called mirror neurons are responsible for this phenomenon and the result is empathy. Empathy helps create connections between individuals and fuels the feeling of compassion for another person. Just like the needle example, the same thing happens when individuals observe others’ facial expressions, tone of voice, and body language.

    Empathy in Trauma-Informed, Resilience-Focused Schools

    Trauma can profoundly impact a child’s ability to learn and socialize. Schools that recognize this and adopt a trauma-informed approach aim to create a safe environment where students feel understood and supported.

    Empathy in the classroom is the cornerstone of such environments. When educators approach students with empathy, they:

    • Recognize and validate students’ feelings and experiences.
    • Create a classroom culture where students feel a sense of connection. 
    • Foster trust and safety in the classroom.
    • Promote resilience by helping students gain awareness of and navigate their emotions.
    • Helps balance students as they observe and interact with regulated educators. 

    The Circle of Courage and Empathy

    The Circle of Courage, a model of youth empowerment, identifies four universal growth needs of all children: Belonging, Mastery, Independence, and Generosity. Empathy plays a crucial role in fostering a sense of belonging. When students feel understood and cared for, they’re more likely to engage, participate, and thrive.

    Strategies for Building Empathy in the Classroom

    1. Model Empathetic Behavior: Children learn by observing. Teachers should demonstrate empathy in their interactions.

    2. Storytelling: Reading books or sharing stories that showcase different perspectives can help students understand and appreciate diverse experiences.

    3. Role-Playing: This allows students to step into another’s shoes, fostering cognitive empathy.

    4. Active Listening Exercises: Teach students to listen without interruption, encouraging them to understand others deeply.

    5. Encourage Group Work: Collaborative projects can help students appreciate different viewpoints and work together harmoniously.

    6. Discuss Emotions: Create a classroom environment where discussing feelings is encouraged and normalized.

    Empathy is not just a moral virtue but a neurological process deeply embedded in our brains. In the realm of education, it’s a powerful tool that can transform classrooms into safe, nurturing, and empowering spaces. By understanding its importance and actively fostering it, we can pave the way for more compassionate and resilient future generations.


    References

    Jankowiak-Siuda K, Rymarczyk K, Grabowska A. (2011). How we empathize with others: a neurobiological perspective. Medical Sciences Monitor. 17(1), R18-24. 

    Riess, H. (2017). The science of empathy. Journal of Patient Experiences, 4(2), 74-77. 

    How to Create a Trauma-Informed Resilient School | Foster Connections

    Foster Connections

    Students who feel connected to their school are also more likely to have better academic achievement, better school attendance, and stay in school longer.
     

    How can you connect to your students?

    One of the best ways to connect with your students is having classroom meetings. These meetings not only allows you to connect with students, but also allows the students to connect with each other and build community within the classroom.
     
    How can you implement a classroom meeting?
     
    Step 1: Form a shape (circle, square). Teacher and students discuss, decide, and practice:

    • Floor or chairs
    • Where, how do you get there?
    • Who do you sit by?
    • What does it look like?
    • What does it sound like?
    Step 2: Introduce a talking piece. This talking piece helps regulate communication between students. Whoever has this piece is allowed to talk. Talking pieces may be a toy, a stick, a stone, or another small object.

    Step 3: Practice using various topics to create proactive classroom meetings:

    • Get to Know You and Greetings
    • Who Am I
    • Compliments and Appreciations
    Below is a video of education professionals like yourself explaining the topics they talk about at their classroom meetings:
     

    10 Steps Book Cover

    For more implementation on how to foster connections in the classroom, check out Starr’s 
    10 Steps to Create a Trauma-Informed Resilient School!

    Rupert Gallery

    The Growing Miscellany of Intriguing Relics


    In the early 1950s, what is now considered a treasured landmark on the campus of Starr was initially met as a peculiar gift. The story began when a Detroit attorney contacted Uncle Floyd. His client, Mrs. Emelie H. Brueckner, was interested in a bequest to Starr Commonwealth to build an art center. Starr was more interested in a cottage for his growing campus. However, as Keith J. Fennimore wrote in his history of Floyd Starr, Faith Made Visible, when hearing that the funds would be lost should Starr decline the offer of an art building, “Starr’s interest in the arts increased remarkably.” Many years later, and after building a collection from across the globe, visitors to the Brueckner Museum will find it only natural to have such a compelling building on campus. After all, beauty is a silent teacher.

    The latest exhibit displayed in the museum is thanks to Kimberly Rupert, whose family was stationed in China, among other places, throughout the 1940s and 50s. This collection, which includes items of ivory, jade, furniture, and more arrived in America when the Ruperts were driven out of China in the midst of the Communist Revolution of 1946-49. In honor and memory of her parents, this exhibit will be known as “The Rupert Gallery”, with a plaque commemorating Claude and Sara Rupert. Given the impact of the Cultural Revolution of 1966-76, particularly the destruction of pre-Communist art, Spring Arbor University’s visiting Chinese professors who visited the Rupert home frequently remarked on the uniqueness of the collection.

    Claude and Sara Rupert loved the Chinese people, and delighted in the opportunity to enjoy their art and culture and to share those items and memories with family and friends. We hope that experience may extend to those who have occasion to visit the Rupert Gallery of the Brueckner Museum for years to come. Starr Commonwealth Board of Trustees member and great grandson of Floyd Starr, Randy Neumann, has always held Brueckner Museum dear to the legacy of Starr, and welcomes the latest contribution. “My great-grandfather was very interested in the East,” recalls Neumann. “This gift is a wonderful opportunity to introduce children to the culture, craftsmanship, and beauty of China. I am grateful for the Rupert’s addition, which will touch the lives of many hurting children.”

    Kenneth Ponds Named Vice President of Oneness and Special Advisor to the President

    To further Starr Commonwealth’s commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion, Kenneth Ponds has been named to the newly created position of vice president of oneness and special advisor to the president.

    As an executive member of the cabinet and advisor, Ponds will provide expertise and guidance to the organization on topics and issues of equity, diversity, and inclusion in all forms, furthering Starr’s core belief in the oneness of humankind. He will assist Starr Commonwealth in efforts to achieve its mission and vision on an organizational level as well as in its offerings and services.
    “For years, Starr has recognized that experiences of racism, toxic hierarchy, and oppression are experiences of individual, collective, and intergenerational trauma,” said Starr President & CEO Elizabeth Carey. “While we increased our efforts in this critical work, in the wake of recent social injustice and violence over the past few years, we knew we had to do more.

    “From his professional experience to his heart and passion, I am confident Ken is the perfect person to spearhead our recommitment and guide the entire organization ever closer to achieving true oneness of humankind.”

    Ponds previously served as campus chaplain for 40 years, and has since played a key role in Starr Commonwealth’s Glasswing Racial Healing program. Glasswing has been a cornerstone of Starr’s equity, diversity, and inclusion work since 1996, and has helped communities across North America “embrace the value of diversity with dignity.” Ponds will continue his contributions to Glasswing from an executive level as advisor, counselor, and mentor for staff.

    “It’s an honor to have this wonderful opportunity to help Starr continue its journey of equity,” Ponds said. “This has always been a core belief for Starr, and along with the opportunity to help young people in their spiritual journey is what attracted me to Starr Commonwealth.

    “This commitment to connection—with the ultimate goal of love that Floyd Starr envisioned over 100 years ago—is one that lives close to my heart. I am honored to help Starr and its partners continue to grow and making love visible in the lives of those we serve.”

    Important Details for Virtual Conference Attendees

    We are excited to have you join us for Starr’s first-ever virtual conference on July 20-22!

    We appreciate your commitment to learning new, trauma-informed and resilience-focused tools and approaches to supporting the children, families, and communities you serve. These are difficult times. Please know that your support for the children you serve IS making a difference! Your presence at this 3-day event will equip you with new tools to enhance this support, and we hope you find both the content and experience empowering and educational.

    1. Go to https://learn.starr.org/.
    2. In the upper right-hand corner of the screen, enter your email address and password and select the green arrow button to log in. Forgot your password? Click here to reset it.
    3. Once logged in, click on your “Dashboard” then click on “2020 Trauma and Resilience Virtual Conference”.

    How to prepare for the conference

    To ensure an optimal experience, we recommend preparing the following prior to the first day of the conference:

    1. Access to a computer/laptop with a strong and consistent internet connection.
    2. Access to https://vimeo.com. Each session will be streamed at https://learn.starr.org using Vimeo’s streaming video platform. To test your access to Vimeo, you can sign up for a free course (Trauma-Informed Resilient Schools, Children of Trauma and Resilience) at https://starr.org/store/ and confirm you can see the course videos for the course at https://learn.starr.orgMore information on accessing your online content is available here.

    IMPORTANT: The Starr team will be unable to troubleshoot any individual issues that arise regarding connectivity issues during the conference. If you have any questions or concerns prior to the conference, please contact info@starr.org.

    In addition, please ensure you have a comfortable space to settle into and move around in throughout each day. Much like a traditional conference experience, we will be building in breaks between sessions, but alongside that, make sure you have:

    • Access to a quiet, interruption-free environment (or as quiet of an environment as possible – for those with kids and pets, we understand this is easier said than done!)
    • The ability to sit and stand (whatever is most comfortable for you!), while still seeing your computer or TV screen (if you have the ability to cast/project to it)
    • Healthy snacks and beverages on hand, to keep your energy up.

    In fact, approach this like you are creating your own comfort corner, and we trust your virtual experience will be a great one!

    focus article by dr Caelan soma about universal needs

    ADHD? ODD? It Could Be Trauma

    Symptoms and responses following trauma or during chronic exposure to stress can look like many other disorders. Two of the most common diagnoses in the school setting for children of all ages are Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD). It is very common for trauma to be mistaken as ADHD or ODD, even by the most well respected and experienced educators. The differential diagnosis isn’t easy, but it is helpful to understand how and why this common mistake is made.

    The differential diagnoses between trauma, ADHD, and ODD present significant challenges. First, there are several overlapping symptoms of PTSD, ADHD, and ODD. The diagnoses are not mutually exclusive, and there are currently significant assessment limitations.

    This reality is terrifying and convicting for many educators. Often, it is the classroom teacher who first suggests the idea that a child may have ADHD, and this suggestion typically results from the child not “fitting into the box” of behavior expected of students in traditional learning environments. Uninformed educators, social workers, parents, and even medical professionals can quickly turn this suggestion into a misdiagnosis if they are not asking the right questions. In the end, a child who has experienced trauma and needs therapy may instead receive medication to treat a condition they do not have.

    FOCUSED FOLLOW-THROUGH

    When children present salient symptoms that PTSD and ADHD share, begin to ask yourself: “Is it PTSD or ADHD? Both?” Unfortunately, this question is not an easy one to answer.

    FOCUS FURTHER

    Learn more about overlapping symptomology in the eLearning course Trauma-Informed, Resilience-Focused Assessment and Differential Diagnosis:

    To learn more about overlapping symptomology, or to make better decisions when diagnosing mental and behavioral health disorders, consider these offerings from Starr Commonwealth.

    Trauma in Disguise: Introducing Trauma-Informed, Resilience-Focused Assessment and Differential Diagnosis

    Trauma-Informed, Resilience-Focused Assessment and Differential Diagnosis is available now. Below, Dr. Cae Soma explains the origins of this course.

    How can one benefit from taking Trauma-Informed, Resilience-Focused Assessment and Differential Diagnosis (TIRFADD)?

    TIRFADD begins to explain to professionals how and why mental health disorder symptoms and reactions we see can be misinterpreted. We call this “trauma in disguise”, and make critical connections through symptoms and reactions displayed by the child. These behaviors look and sound like other mental health disorders. What TIRFADD teaches is centered around an overlap in symptomology. In addition, it’s not enough to say there’s an overlap—we need to know why this overlap exists. So, TIRFADD explains how the manifestation of trauma in the body, overtime, often appears as other disorders

    What’s most fascinating, and an issue we dive deeply into in the course, is that the onset ages of mental health disorders follow the exact course of what’s happening in the body for those experiencing trauma:

     

    More and more research has been done about how trauma looks like every other mental health disorder. It starts with anxiety disorders and moves up into behavior disorders, mood disorders, and at the high school level we begin to see all of the at-risk coping skills (substance abuse, gang involvement, self-harm). We have known for a long time, at the clinical level, that these kids don’t have true ADHD. It then shifted to educators, where well-intentioned teachers refer parents to ADHD screenings.

    Doctors have not been trained in either med school or residency about the overlapping symptoms of mental health disorders and trauma. So, of course, a well-intentioned physician is trained to diagnose mental health disorders. That child may fit the criteria of a mental health disorder, but physicians are not approaching with a trauma-informed lens. When this occurs, either the symptoms and behaviors get worse, or things don’t get better. When things do get better, it’s because there is a true ADHD. Unfortunately, usually that does not happen—usually things get worse.

    This course was created for any practitioner, or parent for that matter, who has found themselves in this difficult situation.

    How did the overlap between trauma and ADHD symptomology, and subsequently the need for this course, come to be?

    Beginning in 2005, there has been a proposal for the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (https://www.psychiatry.org/psychiatrists/practice/dsm - American Psychiatric Association) to include a new diagnosis known as Developmental Trauma Disorder. Starr has been teaching about it, and support the proposal of that diagnosis. Put simply, it explains how a child grows and develops within the context of toxic stress and trauma, of course they’ll have these symptoms like ADHD, etc. This was the first place where our attention was caught with overlapping symptomology. They put into words what we had experienced with children. Unfortunately, it has yet to be adopted for the DSM. We teach about DTD because it would be a tremendous diagnosis. As opposed to PTSD, DTD would explain that symptoms and reactions have been compounded over a lifetime, not based on a single event. For now, and with the help of TIRFADD, physicians can use whatever diagnosis they may need to get the best service for kids, but with the understanding that what’s driving that diagnosis is probably trauma. In this course, we’re going to give you as much information as we can to be as aware as possible about the overlapping symptomology. It’s a difficult subject, as it’s not black and white. We can’t just follow the symptom and reaction – most likely you’ll get what you’re looking for.

    We must remain curious and explore the possibility of what role underlying trauma may be playing in our children’s behavior.

    Trauma and Resilience Summit Panel and Film Viewing

    As part of the Summit experience, Starr is excited to announce that a panel of experts will be assembled to provide their first-hand experience in healing trauma and building resilience in clinical, educational, and residential settings.

    A special introduction will be given by Starr Commonwealth President & CEO Elizabeth Carey, where she will share her perspective on the intersection of human services, healthcare, and education, in addition to the many opportunities for future partnership to continue to empower professionals,  heal trauma, and build resilience in all children – so all can flourish.

    Meet the Panelists

    Following our expert panel, we will be showing the film Resilience: the Biology of Stress and the Science of Hope, with a Q&A with Starr Director of Professional Training & Coaching Kathy Hart.

    This event is free and open to the public. We encourage all attendees to invite their colleagues to this important forum. If you know someone who is driven to heal, refer them to our RSVP page, and you'll receive a coupon code for 20% any eLearning product on our store when they attend.

    Register for the full summit