What is Trauma?

Trauma – A psychological, emotional response to an event or an experience that is deeply distressing or disturbing. Trauma often affects the way the brain works, impairing neurophysiological, psychological, and cognitive functioning.


Types of Trauma

  • Sexual Abuse or Assault

  • Physical Abuse or Assault
  • Emotional Abuse/Psychological Maltreatment

  • Neglect

  • Serious Accident or Illness/Medical Procedure

  • Witness to Domestic Violence

  • Victim/Witness to Community Violence

  • School Violence

  • Natural or Manmade Disasters

  • Forced Displacement

  • War/Terrorism/Political Violence

  • Victim/Witness to Extreme Personal/Interpersonal Violence

  • Traumatic Grief/Separation

  • System-Induced Trauma

Signs & Symptoms

Identifying signs and symptoms of trauma in middle schools students is particularly difficult because of the significant physical/hormonal changes they undergo. Their social and emotional needs are vastly different from younger and older children. Since middle school is already fraught with drama, emotional outbursts, excess or lack of energy, and withdrawal or a heightened need for attention, it can be a real challenge to determine if a student has experienced trauma.

In addition, the shift from learning in a self-contained classrroom where students develop personal realtionships with one teacher, to an enviroment where they have many teachers for a variety of different subjects, can be difficult. Middle school requires students to develop numerous new relationships, which can be daunting and stressful.

  • Sleep disturbance and nightmares

  • Irritability, anger and oppositional behavior

  • Intrusive memories and thoughts

  • Withdrawal and avoidance of people, places and things

  • Anxiety and panic

  • Hypervigilance

  • Physical symptoms: racing heart, headaches, stomach aches

  • Obesity

  • Respiratory difficulties (such as asthma)

  • Poor school performance

Quick Wins

The following are evidence-based strategies that can be used in the classroom. Additional resources for both Quick Wins and for Long Term SOlutions can be found at https://helpandhopewv.org/docs/Kit4Teachers_ALt_2018-4.pdf

Having an adult with whom the student feels safe is extremely important. A trusted adult acts as a sounding board, a mentor, and an anchor which helps the student feel grounded. Especially for middle school students—who already feel out of control because of their physical and hormonal changes—having someone who can help them gain control of themselves and their situations goes a long way to minimizing negative behavior.

Structure, order, and familiar routines help students feel safe. They know what to expect so they feel a sense of control of their surroundings and of themselves.


Ask, “What happened?” instead of “What is wrong with you?”

The teacher will decide the “framed choices” but empower the student with choice or in what order to complete.

Slow down, use a calm voice, and create an atmosphere of peace

Long Term Solutions

  1. Sense of purpose
  2. Agency (self-efficacy)
  3. Self-regulation skills
  4. Relational skills
  5. Problem-solving skills
  6. Involvement in positive activities


Make Connections: Watch to make sure that one child is not being isolated. Encourage students to make friends with their peers. Connecting with people provides social support and strengthens resilience.

Help your students by having them help others: Children who may feel helpless can be empowered by helping others. Engage children in age-appropriate volunteer work, or ask for assistance yourself with some task that he or she can master. Brainstorm with children about ways they can help others.

Maintain a daily routine: Encourage students to develop and stick to their own personal routines, since they can be comforting to children, especially younger children who crave structure in their lives.

Teach your students self-care: Explain to your students how eating properly, getting enough sleep, learning to relax, and having fun can help them feel better.


The broad purpose of PBIS is to improve the effectiveness, efficiency and equity of schools and other agencies. PBIS improves social, emotional and academic outcomes for all students, including students with disabilities and students from underrepresented groups.

Resource: http://wvpbis.org/

Create a trauma-informed compassionate classroom; provides a trusted environment where students feel safe, connected, and among trusted adults


WVDE Disclaimer

Please Note: Links to resources outside the West Virginia Department of Education’s website do not constitute an endorsement by the WVDE. Users should vet linked resources to meet audience needs.