Trauma Responses

Published Categorized as anxiety, behaviour management, self esteem

I worked for ten years in a Pupil Referral Unit (PRU) with children who struggled to regulate both emotions and behaviour. No two children were the same but they would often have very low thresholds for the triggering of emotional outbursts, struggled to trust or attach, were extremely anxious (but often could not admit this), had incredibly low self-worth, gave up at the first hurdle, struggled with change and/or tried to control etc. (see below).

Teaching such children was a balancing act. Challenging them too much, not supporting them attentively through the learning process so they made a mistake, not letting them unload the baggage they arrived with or even doing something ‘too’ exciting, could all result in disengagement at best, violence at worst. These children were really scared and violence was their ‘go to’ to protect themselves.

In recent years it has become understood that our brains hardwire for the environment we are born into. Many behaviours of the children I worked with were simply (and intensely) self-protecting. You obviously couldn’t just inform children about their behaviours and and their possible cause, but it was always good to remember their extreme vulnerability.

I suspect it’s not comprehensive, but here is a list of the behaviours I witnessed in many of the children over the years and their underlying causes. I would argue each behaviour happens in a sliding scale of intensity (and some of us might recognise some of the behaviours in a less extreme version in ourselves). I also know that when I worked as a mainstream teacher, I often encountered these behaviours too.

There is no magic wand for addressing these behaviours and helping these children was a very slow process. You needed to simply be a consistent, attentive and reliable adult and eventually a bond between you and the child would form that they might trust you enough to be soothed by your presence and allow you to help them with their struggles.

I do have a handful of ‘tips’ for ‘managing’ these children but none could be relied upon to be completely failsafe and you ended up having to have a very large toolkit! I guess the expertise came in knowing which tool was most likely to work, in which circumstance and with which child.