Creating Trauma Sensitive Classrooms and Schools

We highly encourage anyone going into the field of education to become familiar with the Adverse Childhood Experience Study. Known as ACE, this research was conducted by the American health maintenance organization Kaiser Permanente and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

The participants were chosen in the mid-nineties and have been followed up as they matured. The study is frequently cited as a landmark in research and has demonstrated a direct association of adverse childhood experiences with physical and emotional health issues in later life.

Ten types of childhood trauma were identified: 

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Sensory Processing Sensitivity, Sensory Processing Disorder or Both?

Picture it. A four-year-old is all dolled up in a in a lacy dress and matching gloves, holding a basket of flowers and ready to sprinkle petals as her aunt prepares to walk down the aisle. As her turn approaches the little one begins to whine, “I don’t want to go.”  She pulls off the itchy gloves and the tears start to flow… A tantrum is underway as she shrieks, “Take the dress off me! It’s too scratchy!!! No I don’t want to throw the flowers and you can’t make me!!!”


Let’s break down some of the reasons this child may be having such a BIG reaction… she may have Sensory Processing Sensitivity (SPS) or Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). There is the possibility that she has both SPS and SPD (SPSD.) In addition, she may be acting in response to family stress, the lack of preparation for the event or a sudden overwhelming anxiety caused by a combination of the above factors.  

Highly Sensitive Children (HSC) and Highly Sensitive People (HSP) ‘have’ Sensory Processing Sensitivity. This term speaks to a trait that 15-20% of the population experience, whereby a heavy volume of sensory information bombards their nervous system, often causing over-stimulation. When this happens to a child they can become dis-regulated and need help processing their thoughts, emotions and behavior.

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The Gift of Trust

The holiday season is in full swing and this is the time of the year I find myself cringing as I observe parents in ‘high gear’ as they unintentionally put stress on themselves and the rest of their family. While the authentic desire to create some kind of magical holiday celebration is usually the impetus to the endless chaos of shopping, baking, cooking and decorating, many families wind up enduring stressed out days leading up to the big event.

Just yesterday, as I walked out of the supermarket to my car I watched a parent screaming at her two children to stop whining and asking for things. The three of them looked miserable as they passed the bell ringer who was cheerfully wishing them a “Merry Christmas!”

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Tantrums vs. Meltdowns

It is important as educators to use appropriate terminology whenever possible. One point of confusion for some early childhood specialists revolves around tantrums and meltdowns. While these words are often used interchangeably they actually have very different meanings.

Tantrums are either a manifestation of learned behavior or a result of built up stress. Sensory meltdowns happen when sensory input triggers an uncontrollable neurological response. Tantrums can be “stopped” even at the peak of breakdown because they are not being driven by neurology, whereas sensory meltdowns must run their course and can last several hours.

 

MANIPULATIVE TANTRUMS

Manipulative tantrums usually start off innocently and without much deliberate thought. Adults sometimes —unconsciously— contribute to this type of tantrum by being inconsistent with rules, routines or boundaries.

Children learn to push back when our “No” is inconsistent. If whining, persisting or demanding is eventually given in to it reinforces ‘manipulative’ behavior. Manipulative tantrums tend to happen with children who learn to have their wants and needs met through unhealthy behavior.

Having established rules and age appropriate consistent routines in place can prevent manipulative tantrums. It is imperative that the expectations placed on children are within their developmental ability, otherwise frustration will ensue.

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