|TIC (October, 2018)
Students who have experienced chronic trauma may not have the ability to regulate their emotions or control impulsive behaviors, and may become hypervigilant. They unconsciously continuously scan the environment for signs of danger. They may perceive a situation is dangerous when it is not; however, if the student perceives it as dangerous, then they may be triggered. Hypervigilant students are triggered when they feel like they have been provoked, or there is a reminder of a trauma experience. As a result, the student may display reactive, impulsive, aggressive, or defiant behaviors.
As the adults who interact with the traumatized youth, our first step is to manage our own response to the behavior. Taking one or more deep breaths can calm down our reaction to the student and give us time to think. We can mentally remind ourselves that the student’s behavior may be a reaction to a trigger and not intentional. Adults need to respond in a calm manner versus react to the student. Student behavior can trigger adults too. Calm non-verbal communication is necessary to help students feel safe. For example, keep the tone of voice even and calm, do not walk toward or “get in the student’s personal space”, and keep the arms in a neutral position (at the side of the body, not crossing arms). When it is appropriate, reassure the student that he/she is safe, and the adult cares and wants to help. Once the student is calm, and the thinking part of the brain is back in control, rather than the emotional center of the brain, it will be easier to reason and have a conversation with the student.