5 Ways to Support Students Affected by Trauma and Build a Resilient School Community

Kickboard Back to School Guide_5

To rebuild thriving schools, we need to prioritize safe, supportive, culturally sustaining, and equitable learning environments that promote the social and emotional competencies of both students and adults. 

The prevalence of trauma and adversity among students was high prior to COVID-19. We are continuing in a global pandemic that has negatively impacted students, staff and their families on multiple fronts—economically, socially, physically. In order to prevent these experiences from negatively impacting the school community, it is even more imperative that schools use trauma-informed practices to shift their views about students. 

→ Explore more best practices in our 2021 Back to School Guide

Promoting resilience is a key component of being a trauma-informed organization, and this focus on resilience is needed now more than ever given our current context of COVID-19. 

As human beings, we are born with a tremendous potential for resilience, but that potential needs to be nurtured. While our genetic makeup has some part to play, resilience is nurtured by our connections to caring and competent people and the positive experiences we have. 

When using a trauma lens for student behavior in schools, we shift our focus from attributing the child’s challenges to personal flaws or characteristics to understanding how the child’s exposure to toxic stress and trauma impacts their development and behavior. The trauma lens provides context, fosters compassion, and helps us to see strengths in the face of adversity. 

5 Ways to Support Students Affected by Trauma

Engage Students Through Play

Engaging students through play is an ideal tool to re-engage students, down regulate their stress response system, and instill positive emotion. These activities serve to connect students, build their self-regulation skills, promote prosocial behavior, and may lead to improved physical health. Incorporate play whenever and wherever you can! 

Here are some ideas:

  • Drawing
  • Free play 
  • Dancing
  • Music
  • Sports 

Show Students They Matter

Even before the pandemic hit, loneliness was on the rise and many young people struggled with finding their place in the world. Add a year of social distancing and hardship to that mix and the impact is mounting. At their deepest core, students want to know they belong, that they’re safe and that they matter. 

Try these simple strategies to let young people know they are valued and they matter:

  • Create opportunities to learn about every student. For example, the D.N.A. activity where students share their Dreams, Needs, and Abilities
  • Actively show that you are listening
  • Praise students for their efforts and achievements
  • Laugh with the students

Create Supportive and Positive Environments

Positive environments and those that promote emotional well being are proven to reduce stress, lessen feelings of social isolation, improve attendance and increase student achievement. The goal of PBIS, or Positive Behavioral Intervention Supports, is to provide a safe and supportive school environment by creating school-wide consistency and meeting the unique needs of students at varying levels of behavioral and social emotional development.

Some strategies to support and positively reinforce behavior:

  • Remind students of positive expectations
  • Keep positivity ratios high – praise more than you correct
  • Provide structure and limits
  • Help navigate students through hard situations
  • Provide safe, non-judgmental space

Empower Students

Creating an empowered school community means involving people in decisions that affect them. Empowering students means giving them the agency and power to express their voice, helping them realize their strengths and showing them you’re genuinely interested in supporting them with reaching their goals and dreams.

Try using some of these strategies to empower students:

  • Include students in establishing norms and expectations
  • Affirm student’s individuality and strengths
  • Consistently give shout-outs, awards, and positive communication home
  • Provide opportunities for students to take action and lead with student jobs, centers, and class rituals

Help Students Feel Connected to Each Other and the Broader Community

It’s important when creating a positive school culture that we connect students to each other and to their community, that we build a sense of being on this journey together. 

Here are some ideas to connect students to each other:

  • Free play, games, competitive activities
  • Student buddy system
  • Small group projects 
  • Restorative practices
  • Use technology to connect classes


For more ideas and tips on how to incorporate trauma-informed and student resilience practices, explore our free guide, Returning to School: 10 Crucial Steps for a Positive School Culture.