How to Help Students Cope and Deal with Stress
Students: Listening and Talking
The magnitude of death and destruction in
traumatic events requires special attention to communicating with children and
adolescents. Physical safety and security always take priority. School is an
important normalizing experience for children and adolescents. It is difficult
to predict the kinds of psychological problems that children and adolescents
will have. However, the following management plan may help minimize later
Every student has a different way of responding to trauma.
It is not advisable to require the same response of everyone. Listen to your
Maintain daily routines to the extent possible. Now is not
the time to introduce new routines. Familiar schedules can be reassuring.
Your response to the disaster will affect your student’s
response. Therefore, it is helpful to discuss your own reactions with other
adults and teachers before talking with your students.
Provide structured time to discuss the event in the
classroom. Be alert to students expressing overwhelming feelings in discussions.
Limiting time can help the student express what they wish without saying more
than they might wish they had.
Maintaining the usual classroom routines can be comforting.
Even regular schoolwork can also provide some sense of familiarity and comfort
to some students.
Encourage school faculty and staff to discuss and plan
classroom interventions together.
Be available to meet individually with your students.
Discuss the event in an open honest manner with your
students. Children might want to talk intermittently, and younger children might
need concrete information to be repeated.
Limit exposure to television and other sources of
information about the disaster and its victims. Too much exposure increases
distress through over identification.
Help students limit the extent to which they personalize or
identify with the victims or the situation. Remind students that they are safe
Engage your students in conversations of their choosing –
not necessarily about their feelings or the scene. Talking about the normal
events of life is central to health.
Increase your students’ sense of control and mastery at
school. Let them plan a special activity.
Older children and adolescents may feel “stirred up.”
Helping them understand their behavior and setting limits at school can
Some children may respond by being distracted or having
trouble remembering things. This should be tolerated and understood.
Be alert to changes in students’ usual behavior (e.g., drop
in grades, loss of interest, not doing homework, increased sleepiness or
distraction, isolating themselves, weight loss or gain).
Students: Techniques for the Classroom
Reassure younger students that they are safe and that their
parents and other adults will take care of them.
Fearful younger students may need to touch base with their
parents from time to time throughout the day during the early stages following
Acknowledge questions about the death and destruction.
Acknowledge your student’s feelings: “You sound
sad/angry/worried…” or “Are you sad/angry/worried?”
At a time when you are feeling calm and able to listen and
share with your students, acknowledge that you, too, may feel sad, angry or
Lead discussions that will help younger students gain a
sense of mastery and security. “You have asked good questions.” “That was a good
idea,” or “Your family/Mom/Dad knows how to take good care of this.”
For Older Students
Acknowledge the importance of peers in helping to
For many teens, their cognitive abilities are often greater
than their emotional capacity to manage highly stressful situations. Expect
Remember the importance of providing emotional support by
“naming” the expectable reactions of sadness, numbness, anger, fear and
confusion. Explain how inappropriate giddiness, laughter or callousness often
are used to distance ourselves from becoming overwhelmed.
Help your middle and high school students reframe their
expressions of rage or despair. Focus on helping them to find positive solutions
to the situation. Coordinating memorial ceremonies or special school assemblies
or donating their time and creativity to fundraising, blood drives, etc., are
ways your students can learn the benefits of altruism to themselves and to their
For more information visit the Center
for the Study of Traumatic Stress.