How teachers can help children with anxiety and trauma

jane evans, education, mental health, emotional wellbeing, trauma

Jane Evans, trauma parenting, anxiety expert and author of several best-selling books supporting children, shares advice about how (and why) teachers have an important role to play in helping children overcome anxiety and trauma.

Supporting children who are anxious or have experienced even a low level of repetitive early trauma is not something that can only be sectioned off for support from ‘certain professionals’ such as counsellors or social workers. Children don’t just process and show their anxiety and trauma at designated times for those who are trained to deal with it. For teaching professionals with no specific training to understand what creates anxiety and trauma in children, let alone how to identify and support the children who are presenting complex needs, it can feel like yet another overwhelming additional pressure on an already demanding job.

Anxiety and trauma both have an impact on daily life for a child. Within the current attainment-focused climate in education it can seem like a ‘bridge too far’ for teaching staff to extend their time, understanding, and already stretched resources to support these children. In reality, even though children’s trauma and anxiety can present as really challenging behaviours, being able to repeatedly offer gentle compassionate curiosity is so important. There are no ‘quick fixes’ but persistence and a commitment to this approach is important in reducing anxiety over time.

Of course, it can seem really daunting to even think about helping children who are highly anxious or have lived with some level of trauma. But offering support backed up with a genuine desire to ‘get it’, is a great starting point. Any child will appreciate someone with a strong desire to see things from their perspective and a willingness to work with them to create better school and life experiences for them.

As a starting point, simple breathing and grounding techniques are extremely beneficial – both one-to-one with children and with the whole class. After all, trying to focus and take in information when your body and brain are restless and on hyper-alert – or when your brain has ‘zoned out’ and your body has shut down – makes accessing education pretty much an impossibility. Taking time to breathe and reassure the body that this space is safe, so it can settle and send this information to the brain, takes a child out of ‘survival mode’ so they can learn, focus and thrive.

Jane Evans says, from over 20 years of working with traumatised parents, children and young people I know that when we understand the physiological, emotional and psychological impacts of early repetitive trauma, then offering support becomes imperative and makes more sense. I strongly advocate teachers and anyone present in supporting the lives and learning of children to access training on early attachment and developmental trauma, alongside simple body-based and sensory regulation techniques as part of the support solution.

Jane will be sharing her knowledge and a host of ways to address anxiety through sensory based techniques as key note speaker at the Forging New Connections conference series this Summer term, organised by National training provider Thrive. You can find out more by visiting our website and seeing Jane’s TEDx talk on childhood anxiety.