How Schools Can Help Students with Traumatic Stress


Oct 2, 2014

High school student and teacher using digital tablet

Photo by Monkey Business/Fotolia

About 25 percent of children have experienced a traumatic event that could affect their learning or behavior. Traumatic stress can stem from a range of incidents: natural disasters, bullying and cyberbullying, problems at home—even unthinkable tragedies such as the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Schools are in a unique position to recognize traumatic stress in children. But first, adults throughout the school system, including teachers, staff, administrators, school resource officers, and parents, must

  • be aware of the issue
  • know how to detect signs of difficulty after trauma exposure
  • create a supportive environment.

According to a team of researchers and mental health practitioners from RAND, UCLA, USC, and the Los Angeles Unified School District, this is the bedrock of a “trauma-informed” school. By creating supportive environments, trauma-informed schools help with prevention, detection, and early intervention of traumatic stress.

To help more school systems become trauma-informed, the team created a free online resource that covers how schools can help, including evidence-based interventions for both education and mental health professionals.

“Children spend more of their waking hours in school than any other single place,” said Bradley D. Stein, a child psychiatrist and senior scientist at RAND. “Creating a supportive school environment for children who have experienced violence and trauma is an important step in helping them achieve academically.”

Some of these resources are currently being translated into Ukrainian and Korean. These will equip schools in eastern Ukraine and South Korea to help students living in conflict zones and coping with the aftermath of tragedy like the sinking of the ferry Sewol.

Pete Wilmoth