On May 20th, two journalists in Yakima, Washington detailed the lengths that elementary schools are going to in order to combat the growing issue of unresolved childhood trauma. It is no mystery that issues at home are directly related to issues at school. Children that grow up in emotionally, physically, or psychologically abusive households are far more likely to engage in adverse behavior in the classroom – from picking fights to completely disengaging in schoolwork. The journalists, Elizabeth Chuck and Marshall Crook, spoke with a school counselor that created a “Calm Room” to serve as a healthy alternative to recess (a time of day when many children who are dealing with issues at home act out). Jeff Clark created the room in order to allow children “a safe space to reset”. The “Calm Room” has already made a positive impact in the lives of many of his students – not only are they able to relax in a meditative space, they are also able to work through their problems if they so choose. The room incorporates aromatherapy, meditative music, and dimmed lights.
Long-Lasting Effects of Unresolved Childhood Trauma
In 1998, Kaiser Permanente and the Center for Disease Control completed a monumental study focusing on the adverse effects of childhood trauma. The study confirmed that ACEs are extremely prevalent – roughly two-thirds of surveyed adults were found to have suffered from some form of childhood trauma. The study also found that those who had experienced trauma as children were far more likely to experience health issues throughout adulthood (such as lung cancer, hepatitis, and depression). Because crucial development occurs during childhood, children who have unstable relationships with their parents or caregivers will struggle to form healthy bonds later on in life. Through healthy attachments early on, individuals learn how to communicate effectively, cope with stress, and interact with the world around them in a healthy way. Insecure attachment leads to issues within romantic relationships, friendships, and relationships with authoritative figures (such as teachers).
The Role That Teachers Play
Teachers who acknowledge this reality and focus on developing a healthy and supportive relationship with their students may help them avoid (at least in part) the lasting effects of childhood trauma. Of course, teachers are not primary caregivers, and a healthy relationship with an educational professional cannot replace the bond that a child would form with his or her parents. Additionally, the vast majority of teachers do not couple as mental health professionals, thus they lack to knowledge and experience necessary to intervene. But… teacher involvement – and awareness – can make a difference. Many teachers across the US are recognizing this, and are making an effort to be there for their students in ways they may not have previously considered. While it certainly isn’t the job of the teacher to provide counseling to students, it helps greatly to explore the reasons that barriers to learning exist.
Trauma and Learning
Numerous studies have confirmed that adverse childhood experiences – such as neglect, divorce, and sexual, emotional, and physical abuse – seriously affect the ability to learn and retain knowledge. Many teachers are beginning to undergo trauma-related training in order to identify signs and symptoms of unresolved trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder. These symptoms may include flashbacks, insomnia (which could lead to sleeping in the classroom), emotional inconsistency (outbursts), and disassociation. It has become exceedingly clear that, for students, the lasting effects of trauma concern much more than behavioral change. The constant state of anxiety that trauma can cause is likely to affect a child’s brain chemistry and development. Flight-or-fight responses that crop up throughout the day are likely to interrupt learning, as the brain’s memory centers are being “turned down” significantly.
Fortunately, the trauma-informed changes that are currently taking place in educational environments have been having a profound impact in the lives of children across the country. Of course, these practices have not always been in place – and trauma-informed education is not available everywhere. If you or someone you love has been struggling with the lasting effects of unresolved trauma, we at Next Chapter can help. Please contact us today to learn more about our trauma-specific program.