Learn how to create trauma-sensitive spaces where all students feel welcomed and supported.
Every school has students who have experienced trauma. According to the National Child Traumatic Stress Initiative (NCSTI), more than two thirds of children have reported at least one traumatic event by the age of 16, making trauma one of the most important public health issues in our world today.
The experiences and depth of trauma can vary from child to child, but the impact often remains the same. It can show up in many different trauma-related behaviors (e.g., avoidance, disengagement, inattention.) that may lead to negative impacts on their social, emotional, and academic development in school.
Mindfulness is a vital resource in supporting trauma-sensitive schools and classrooms. In bringing mindfulness into our schools, we help students and teachers build healthy relationships with one another while also developing life-long tools for awareness, emotional regulation, self-care, and resiliency. The practice can help create safe enough spaces for all students to feel welcomed and supported in the classroom so that true learning can occur in a healthy regulated state.
The truth is, a trauma-sensitive classroom helps ALL students, not just those experiencing the current effects of trauma. However, it isn’t enough to just bring mindfulness into the classroom; we must also be intentional with how we offer the practice to students. To be truly effective, mindfulness offerings need to be inclusive of all student experiences, including those that may have a history of trauma. The goal isn’t to know every student’s history with trauma, but to teach mindfulness in a way that allows the classroom to become a safe enough space for all nervous system states present.
3 Trauma-Sensitive Practices for Your Classroom
Below are few mindfulness facilitation tips to help ensure that your practices are trauma-sensitive and welcoming of all student experiences:
1. Emphasize student choice:
When starting practice, normalize options and choice. There are multiple ways to practice, and what may feel comfortable to each student may vary. You can call attention to the different anchors students might use (e.g., breath, body, sound, touch), postures (e.g., sitting upright, lying down), and movement. Invite students to figure out for themselves what feels most supportive and safe for them in the moment.
2. Offer mindfulness as an invitation, not a requirement:
Students should always be always in choice when it comes to the extent in which they participate in the practice. When presenting mindfulness to students, use invitational language (e.g., “I invite you to find a comfortable posture…”) and give options for students who may choose to opt out or not participate. Keep in mind that participation for each student will vary and that this is not a time for you to worry about compliance or behavior management.
One option for students who choose to not participate in a guided mindfulness practice can be to journal on their own. You can give students a prompt to explore or invite them to write down whatever they notice in the moment. This option can be given at the beginning so that students have choice throughout the lesson.
3. Normalize all different types of student experiences:
There is no right or wrong way to practice mindfulness. It’s important to normalize the spectrum of experiences that may arise during the practice, no matter what they may be. Remember that the main intention of mindfulness is to notice present-moment experiences and emotions. As students share what comes up for them, you can affirm them by using helpful phrases like “That’s okay,” “I notice/experience that sometimes too,” or “Did anyone else notice that?” Normalizing the spectrum of experiences sends a powerful message to students.
As you try these trauma-sensitive facilitation tips, remember to be kind and patient with yourself. Some of these practices may not come natural or easy at first, but over time they will deepen and enrich your mindfulness teaching skills. Your ability to create more opportunities for nervous system regulation will help your students feel safe, seen, and heard.