Schools Teach Students to Manage the Stress of Trauma

The Washington PostWashington Post: To manage the stress of trauma, schools are teaching students how to relax.

by Michael Alison Chandler

Like a growing number of schools nationwide, Houston Elementary in Northeast Washington is using mindfulness and other therapies to help children manage the stress they encounter in their daily lives.

Neurological research shows that traumatic experiences such as being abused, witnessing a violent crime or even living in a neighborhood where crime is pervasive can transform the developing brain. They alter the chemical balance, making it more difficult for children to concentrate, create memories and build trusting relationships — all fundamental skills for performing well in school.

The research is motivating educators to rethink zero-tolerance discipline policies that punish kids for outbursts that can be signs of trauma and to rally support for efforts to bring more mental health care into schools, where students and families have ready access to them.

“The brain cannot focus when it’s not calm,” said Susan Cole, a Harvard Law School professor and director of the Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative, which advocates for “trauma sensitive” schools. “Children have to feel safe enough to learn.”

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