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Teachers and school leaders can play a life-changing role by helping create positive childhood experiences for the children in their care

How any educator can create resilience in traumatized students

Teachers and school leaders can play a life-changing role by helping create positive childhood experiences for the children in their care

Positive experiences can be life-changing for a child. In a previous installment of this series, I shared how positive experiences with teachers throughout my childhood helped counteract some of the trauma I experienced early in life.

Research shows that adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) can have long-lasting effects, but there are things each of us can do to help the children in our lives deal with that trauma. Those are known as positive childhood experiences (PCEs). In this article, I’ll share what teachers can start doing today to make a lifelong positive impact.

7 Impactful Positive Childhood Experiences

The research into PCEs is fairly new, but a consistent finding is that they produce a particular response in children that is recurring: resilience. Data is also clear that children exposed to PCEs become adults who are more comfortable reaching out for support from friends or medical professionals, which can lead to better mental health outcomes. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University identified seven positive experiences individuals encounter as children that are associated with improved mental health and social connectedness when they become adults.

  • talking with family about feelings;
  • feeling supported by family during difficult times;
  • participating in community traditions, such as athletics;
  • sharing a sense of belonging with high school peers;
  • receiving the support of friends;
  • experiencing care from at least two adults who are not parents; and
  • feeling safe and protected by an adult at home.

3 easy ways for teachers to build resilience in students

As you can see, many of the positive experiences children have in life occur outside of the home. So, while you unfortunately can’t control a student’s ACEs, there are things you can do every day to help children build resilience, enabling them to counteract the effects of trauma in the long run. Here are three of them:

1. Connect

This can be as simple as a check-in to see how students are doing. That personal attention may not seem like much to you, but it shows children that you care. Remember, children are positively impacted when at least two caring adults outside of the home are a part of their lives.

2. Encourage

Children need to feel supported. Understand that you’re helping them build confidence every time you offer words of encouragement. Point out their strengths, talents and interests. Get them focused on what they can do, instead of what they can’t.

3. Involve

Speaking of interests, show children how their strengths fit into community traditions — one of those PCEs. Joining clubs or teams or participating in various programs open doors to friendships, which is another PCE.

4 ways school leaders can help build resilience in students

Don’t limit positive experiences to what happens between teachers and students. If you’re a top leader in a school system, you have a role in building childhood resilience, and making the following small changes at the school level can position your students for greater success.

1. Make sure your staff knows about ACEs and PCEs.

Your teachers and administrators may not be familiar with those terms. Share and explain the research to familiarize them with the trauma their students may be experiencing and how their classrooms can double as centers for building resilience.

2. Promote positive emotion.

An attitude of gratitude will get us far! Have your educators implement daily moments of gratitude. Encourage students to keep a journal so they can look back at everything they were grateful for throughout the year.

3. Teach the importance of mental health and well-being.

Social-emotional subject matter is to overcoming trauma what addition and subtraction are to a math class. Find ways to add a mindful approach to the work students are doing in your schools.

4. Provide support for not only students but also their families.

You support students every day, but if a child is experiencing trauma at home, then the family may need support, as well. Just as you would check in on students, find ways to check in on the well-being of their loved ones, too.

As you can see, providing PCEs can be as simple as making small changes to your everyday activities. If you’re already moving in that direction, then keep it up! Your contributions will make an impact — they may already have.

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