Listen to this blog
When we think about the root causes of trauma, we tend to focus on worst-case scenarios like school shootings. But trauma can be caused by events much smaller in scale—from hurricanes to acts of violence to car accidents and gas leaks. You don’t even necessarily have to experience the distressing event firsthand. Just witnessing it can be enough to cause trauma in some individuals.
Are Some Students More Prone to Trauma than Others?
Trauma responses can vary drastically from one person to the next, and some people are more sensitive than others. Individuals that are more prone to trauma responses typically have:
- Direct involvement in the traumatic event, especially if they were a victim
- Prolonged and severe exposure to the traumatic event
- A family or personal history of mental health issues
- Experienced traumatic events before
- Limited support from their families, friends, or communities
- Ongoing life stressors, like moving neighborhoods or going to a new school
How do Children and Adolescents Respond to Trauma?
Trauma responses vary in severity. Reactions can also immediately follow the event or be delayed. Below we breakdown common responses based on age.
- Five years old and younger – These children may be tearful and irritable, and they’ll want to be around their caregivers for support. They may complain of physical symptoms, like headaches, and have increased fears. Guardians and staff may also notice these children begin to incorporate the traumatic event into imaginary play.
- Six to 11 years old – These students may begin to suffer academically in school, have trouble concentrating, lose interest in activities, and isolate themselves from others. Like the previous age group, these students also become angry, disruptive, and irritable, may complain of physical symptoms, and develop new fears.
- Twelve to 17 years old – These students have trouble sleeping and may experience nightmares. They commonly respond to trauma by avoiding talking about the event and isolating themselves from friends and family members. This age group is more likely to use alcohol, drugs, or tobacco in response to trauma. Just like previous age groups, they also may show behavioral changes, like irritability, anger, and resentment.
How Can Schools Support Students with Mental Health Challenges Caused by a Traumatic Event?
School staff are typically the first to notice when a student is in distress. Many staff jot down their concerns in their notebooks or make a mental note to talk to the school counselor or the student’s guardian. Without a standardized reporting process, however, it can be difficult to see the whole picture and recognize patterns.
Digitally tracking concerns creates a bigger picture of the student’s wellbeing. These chronologies also help schools recognize when a student’s distress is escalating so that they can intervene as early as possible.
Help is available. If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.
Guide to K-12 Emergency Management
Proven Strategies to Protect Your School.