Common Hour: Teaching and Child Trauma

By Laura Giacomini

On Oct. 25, Polly Lamison, Director of Special Education at the Eastern York School District, and Paul Mancia, Program Director for the Laurel Life Program (which provides behavioral health services to students and their families), delivered the Common Hour Talk, “Understanding Trauma in Children,” which discussed how educators can work with students from diverse backgrounds or behavioral learning problems.

Since there is no specific curriculum to prepare future educators to teach students from diverse backgrounds or with behavioral and learning problems, the discussion allowed for an opportunity to see what it is like teaching diverse students before entering the classroom.

Lamison and Mancia used Van Der Kolk and Fisler’s definition of trauma which states, “Trauma arises from an inescapable stressful event that overwhelms an individual’s coping mechanism.”

They explained how the body can change after a traumatic event and affect the decisions an individual makes. Students undergoing constant “toxic stress” (caused by witnessing or experiencing domestic violence or sexual abuse, neglect or parental abandonment, etc.) can overload the brain and weaken its architecture. The speakers also stated that constant levels of extreme stress may lead to physiological and emotional effects that hinder learning and tamper with an individual’s ability to socialize.

During the presentation, Lamison and Mancia discussed brain breaks and how they are effective when teaching traumatized children. Research has shown that brain breaks help learners stay focused and increase their productivity. According to, some brain breaks help students clear their minds or meditate. The most effective brain breaks incorporate some level of physical movement in order to stimulate neurological pathways and help both hemispheres of the brain work together.

Lamison and Mancia suggest that teachers need to remain aware of their responses to child behavior and be informed about trauma and its effect on young learners. The lecturers advised educators to listen well in order to help children feel safe, to watch for possible triggers and to provide consistent feedback. This helps build resilience and a sense of community in the classroom.

The tips shared during the Common Hour, will help educators get a head start on tackling the negative effects of unresolved trauma in children. It is then the role as teachers to make sure a stress-free atmosphere is built within the classroom so students feel safe and cared for.

For more information about the Laurel Life Organization and what their goals are, please visit

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