This hand out explores how PTSD effects children, their learning and their relationship with educators. It offers practical tools for educators to aid a student with trauma it learning. It is based of DSM-IV diagnosis.
The effects Childhood Trauma and PTSD on Education and Learning (Guide to Classroom Management)
Understanding PTSD in Children
Causes of PTSD: Any dangerous or life threatening event.
(Including assault, rape, sexual abuse, domestic violence,
witnessing violence, war, natural disasters).
Symptoms of PTSD: (Three categories)
Upsetting intrusive thoughts, memories
or images of the event, feeling as if one were reliving the event. These
thoughts can distract a child from class work.
A state of increased psychological and
physiological arousal. The child can be easily startled, triggered to
anger, respond to even small threats with intense fear or anger. When a
child is in hyperarousal they have trouble learning,
tolerating feedback and can be highly irritable.
Loss of interest in life and pleasure;;
Feelings of “deadness” or “numbness” and distance from
relationships. The child can feel like life is hopeless and doing school
nected with their teacher.
Effects on Education
Children with PTSD Display: Disruptions in Attention, Concentration,
connect their behaviors with outcomes.
Children Display: “Externalizing behaviors.” These behaviors can
negatively impact the relationships between the child and authority
activity, Aggressive behaviors, Impulsivity, and in teens Delinquency.
Critical Concepts in Working
with Kids with PTSD
(Sooth your self before talking to the
child. Kids with PTSD are sensitive to
their care provider’s emotions).
#2 - Use positive emotions to support
mastery and distress tolerance
(Positive emotions reduce stress,
increase how quickly a student can reduce
hyperarousal and control their behavior.)
(Learning can be stressful, and requires
a child to tolerate the frustration of mak-
ing mistakes. As educators you can provide
scaffolding for a child’s inability to regulate
emotions with your ability to tolerate and
normalize their mistakes.)
#4 The Attitude
Stay calm wear the poker face.
Stick to the rules while remaining
kind and supportive.
Accept the child fully
not the actions.
Your empathy helps the child
grow empathy for others
Enjoyment is key
for a child with trauma. Curiosity is the
Hallmark of safety.
Four Skills to Work w/ Children w/ PTSD
Use “The attitude” when the child is
reaching the peak of their ability to tolerate a task.
What goes up must come down. Don’t act
until both you and the child are calm. This will insure that the child will be
able to think and reason about their behaviors.
Step 1 - Validate and reassure the child,
Step 2 - Provide the feedback about the child’s behavior in a neutral manor
and Step 3 - Validate the child and their ability to handel feedback well.
calmly your request and validating the child.
1. Triggers are reminders
of a traumatic event.
2. They can cause a child
to flood with negative
3. Triggers can be nearly anything... A body
posture, a vocal tone, a color, a sound, a
4. Sometimes a child will be triggered and
not know why they feel so scared or angry.
Optimal Arousal in the Class Room
1. A child needs to be awake and focused enough to learn. If they are
“underaroused” they are board and will not learn.
2. There is an optimal zone of learning... The goldilocks principal: Not too relaxed, not too excited...Just right!
3. Once a child passes the optimal arousal level the child’s front brain goes off line
and they begin to act from their reptilian brain. At this point they are only
focused on if a person is dangerous or safe.
4. When a child is past their optimal arousal level reasoning will not work. They
need to have time to calm down before their ability to reason will be
5. You can help in many ways to support the child to return to rest.
in the Classroom
Co-regulation is regulation of emotions through the
interaction with another person or animal.
1. Teachers emotions effect the emotions of the
children they work with.
2. Students emotions effect the emotions of the
teachers they are in the class with.
3. Soothing yourself... Sooths the class....
4. Key ways to effect a child’s emotions
a. Body language. Choose a strong but non-
threatening posture that communicates that
the child is safe.
b. Vocal tone. Choose an appropriate vocal
tone. Watch the impact of the tone. Change
your tone to get the desired impact.
Broaden and Build Hypothesis
Role of Positive Emotions in Resilience
1. Negative emotions are aimed at removing a
threat in the short-term.
2. Positive emotions help build long-term
strengths, learn new skills and information.
3. Positive emotions can “undo” the impact of
4. Children with PTSD have a lack of positive
Emotions (anhadonia) and more negative
5. Children thrive at an 11 - 1 positive to
negative emotion ratio.
6. Positive emotions are relatively easy to evoke!