Open Discussion Forum

Expand all | Collapse all

Best Classroom Strategies for At-Risk Students

  • 1.  Best Classroom Strategies for At-Risk Students

    Posted 02-11-2019 04:00 PM
    Hello Educators,
    I am looking for the best classroom strategies for children who have experienced trauma, abuse, homelessness, and out of home placement.  I am an Early Childhood Director who wants to create an inclusive program for young children 12 months to 12 years.  Children who have experienced social and emotional disconnect are often separated and forgotten.  Please share your experience and proven techniques that promote a positive outcome for this exceptional population.

    Thank you.

    P. D. Warren
    Arizona PBS
    Mesa AZ

  • 2.  RE: Best Classroom Strategies for At-Risk Students

    Posted 02-12-2019 12:58 PM
    Hi.  What a great service!

    I have worked with children with emotional problems in the past for about 7 years.  I worked at a "psych" hospital as well as an "alternative" school.  We had children has young as 5 there.  A  lot of what young children with trauma are doing is trying to learn the point where you won't like them anymore.  They want to keep pushing you until you respond.  They have internalized that they are "unlovable" and would rather get you away before they get attached and you leave them.  They believe that a lot of what happens is because of them.  Young children are very egocentric and think "if I were better, daddy would have stayed"  or "if I didn't misbehave, mommy would not have been hit".  You get it.  So loving them even when they are deliberately pushing buttons and lashing out is a must.  It is not always easy, but it makes a difference. Loving them even when they are at their most infuriating is really important.  It is not a job that everyone can do.  I have had my nose broken by a 6 year old, who then sat in my lap crying because he was so sorry he hit me.  I felt so bad for him.  Many people in that situation would have been angry with him.  He wanted me to be angry with him.  When I wasn't, he finally realized he was not going to push me away.  That is when he was able to start to trust and feel safe.  That is when he finally was able to learn something in school.  He began to do his work after that.

    Next, I would say staff would need to learn "de-escalation techniques".  The Crisis Prevention Institute has some good ones. (Please google CPI's Top 10 De-Escalation Tips).  Children who have experienced trauma often lash out and can be aggressive and angry.  The staff who work with them need to understand this.  A lot of the "techniques" are happening all day.  It is not just something to consider in crisis mode.  By learning and teaching this way, children will have less of a need to act out.  Things like, being nonjudgmental, setting limits, and ignoring challenging questions/behavior are things that just need to be incorporated.  For example, if a four year old is kicking the wall and looking at you with a "what are you going to do" look.  It is often better to go and say, "wow, you look angry.  I am glad you are kicking the wall and not a person." THEN give them the words they need to understand their feelings.  "I bet when Suzy took your block, you felt that it was unfair.  You have had a lot of unfair stuff in your life.  I get that.  I wish things were easier for you.  But I will do my best to make school a "safe place" where you feel like you are ok.  Let's go tell Suzy how you feel"    Obviously - my words were pretty basic and you don't need to use them exactly.  Just trying get the message across.  As a matter of fact, if I actually said it like that, I am sure the child would shut me out.  Many children experiencing trauma are from lower socio-economic back grounds and that culture would not speak like I just did.

     Also- desensitization to "bad" language is a must - you would not believe some of the stuff a 3 or 4 year old can say!  They repeat a lot of what is heard, and most of what is heard is not PG  or politically correct.

    What you are doing is very needed and I wish you the best of luck.

    Melissa Meyer

    Melissa Meyer
    Madison MS

  • 3.  RE: Best Classroom Strategies for At-Risk Students

    Posted 02-13-2019 01:31 PM
    Hi Melissa,
    Thank you for sharing these key strategies for teaching young children who have experienced trauma.  I have worked with children that were placed in Group Homes in the Foster Care System.  I appreciate the resource of CPI.  I remember taking a course over 20 years ago that prepared me with a safe engagement of a child that was experiencing negative behavior.  I agree that would be excellent training for my team.  I also believe sharing a loving heart would help all children feel safe and secure in the learning environment.  Children do not understand what they are verbally saying but will mirror others at a young age.  

    Thank you for sharing and your reply.  This is very helpful information.  


  • 4.  RE: Best Classroom Strategies for At-Risk Students

    Posted 02-13-2019 09:48 AM
    A resource that you might find helpful is the book titled "Reaching and Teaching Children Exposed to Trauma" by Barbara Sorrels.  An excellent and comprehensive book which is very relevant for early childhood settings.

    Kristen Kennen
    Early Childhood Education Specialist
    Danbury, CT

  • 5.  RE: Best Classroom Strategies for At-Risk Students

    Posted 02-17-2019 07:16 PM
    Hi Kristen,
    Thank you for sharing this wonderful book.  I will add this to our teacher training development resource.  It is always good to have hands-on material for quick access to implement strategies for success.  Equipping teachers with the right tools will help benefit the students and the classroom environment.  Thank you.

    Pamela Warren
    Arizona PBS
    Mesa AZ

  • 6.  RE: Best Classroom Strategies for At-Risk Students

    Posted 02-13-2019 01:18 PM

    This is a great question and the key as noted is to help the child feel safe and secure and that you are there to provide that safety and security.
    I have included some other resources that you may find helpful. Please google the following:

    The Gesell Institute (it has some wonderful trainings and webinars).

    National Child Trauma Stress Network- Trauma-Informed Care

    Child Trauma Academy- Helping Traumatized Children

    [Priscilla Weigel]
    [Assistant Director]
    Center for Inclusive Child Care]
    St. Paul,] [MN]
    At Risk Special Needs Interest Forum Co-Facilitator