Chelsea Heights Trauma Tips

February 2016

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"They don't know the difference between a real tiger and a paper tiger."

Jim Sporleder, Paper Tigers

A Sense of Safety

The lack of a sense of safety is a defining feature of trauma. Trauma has changed the brain structures of our students so that their worldview is one of constant threat and danger. When students are triggered they re-experience the fear and terror in their bodies. The pre-frontal cortex (thinking, reasoning, impulse control) goes off-line and students respond in primitive ways, because the limbic system in their brain takes over.


This is an adaptive response; our brains were designed to do this to keep us safe. However, the student’s primitive response often looks like manipulation, defiance, and aggression and our tendency then is to respond with external controls (focusing on behavior.) This may keep students safe, but it doesn’t build capacity in our students. Our mantra should be, “mentor, not monitor.” We need to focus more on building capacity than on reducing pathology.

Common triggers for students at school


  • Time out (particularly for those who have experienced physical or emotional neglect
  • Separations (arrival and dismissal)
  • Not being in charge
  • Feeling incapable
  • Reminders of loss


Tasks of a trauma-informed school in relation to triggers:
  • Understand a student’s triggers
  • Communicate with others when a trigger is identified
  • Reduce risk by reducing exposure to unnecessary trauma reminders
  • Enhance students' capacity/ability to cope and regulate
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Self-Care Corner

Resilient students need resilient teachers. Good content teaching requires modeling of skills, and attitudes. If teachers themselves are barely coping, if teachers cannot bounce back from the challenges they face, how are they to sustain the strength needed to promote resiliency among their students? (Wolpow and Askov, 2008)

Watch your mailboxes next week for a tip on managing your stress and building resilience...