young child hugging parent or teacher

Back to School: How to Use Our Trauma Toolkit 

This guest post was written by Haley Brown, a First Book marketing and Communications Intern. She is currently an undergraduate student at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C. 

Children can flourish and grow in happy, loving, and safe environments — its why educators work so hard to make classrooms a supportive and nurturing place for students. However, almost half of all children in the United States, 35 million, face a different reality and have experienced one or more types of trauma. Trauma impacts students in a variety of different ways that educators must be aware of to recognize and plan for to better support students.  

The Trauma Toolkit created by First Book and funded by the Maryland State Education Association (MSEA), helps educators understand the causes, symptoms, and effects of trauma. It also provides answers to frequently asked questions and actionable steps adults can take to support children experiencing trauma. Download the toolkit on our website, free for anyone to use.  

young child hugging parent or teacher

1. What is Trauma?  

The Trauma Toolkit helps educators understand exactly what trauma is and what their students might be facing outside the classroom. Trauma is not an event itself, but rather a response to a stressful situation in which a person’s ability to cope is dramatically undermined. For children, trauma occurs when a child experiences an event that causes actual harm or poses a serious threat to his or her emotional and physical well-being.  

Childhood trauma can come from many different sources and ranges from community violence to medical trauma to refugee experience. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to supporting children who experience trauma, since their experiences are often very different; however, the Trauma Toolkit can help adults learn to understand children experiencing trauma and how to help them overcome it.  

2. Recognize Signs of Trauma 

Less than 1% of emotional behavioral problems in young children are identified, so educators need to be aware of the signs and symptoms of trauma to look for ways to help their students. Educators may frequently notice unhealthy or concerning behavior from students, but are unsure of the causes of such behaviors, and that it may be symptomatic of trauma. Recognizing the signs of trauma is essential to supporting a child’s learning development.  

Major symptoms of trauma to watch for in your classroom include cognitive delays that often manifest as a difficulty to pay attention or frustration with difficult tasks and the inability to process relationships or emotions. Children may also experience the inability to predict and make inferences, or a lack of understanding the relationship between cause and effect, and weariness of the future.  

3. Be Prepared to Handle Trauma 

The cycle of traumatic responses often repeats as an adult’s negative reaction reinforces the student’s beliefs; however, if educators are prepared, they can be ready to take a trauma-informed response and get support for the student. Over time, the student learns how to cope in a healthy manner and heal from their traumatic experience. Being ready with a prepared trauma response in these situations will allow educators to quickly deescalate and stabilize their classroom. The four things a child managing trauma needs are safety, caring adults, feelings of accomplishment, and choices in daily tasks that develop their sense of agency. 

Educators can also be prepared by cultivating a safe space within their schools! Use the First Book Marketplace to fill your classroom with books that make children feel happy, healthy and supported! Continue further reading on trauma and Educational Equity on the First Book blog!

4. Stay Familiar With The Toolkit 

Educators should refresh themselves on the Trauma Toolkit regularly to make sure they stay aware of trauma signs and symptoms. One strategy educators can use to stay familiar with the material in the Trauma Toolkit is to periodically ask themselves one of the frequently asked questions from the toolkit. Making sure they have an answer and a plan for their classroom in those common scenarios will help them stay prepared and ready to support students. FAQs include questions like: How do I teach my students to self-manage their emotions? What do I do if my student is having a meltdown? 

Join Our Network 

Ready to use these tools and more in your classroom? Educators can join First Book’s Network — the largest and fastest growing network of educators, schools, and programs serving children in need across the United States and Canada — to bring new resources and supplies to the classroom.