How Old Are You? – The Reality of Trauma in School

One of the children I have been working with has survived numerous horrible things in his first few years of life. When I say survive I mean it literally. He has done the amazing thing of staying alive through multiple experiences that could have ended very differently. You would think that all the staff around him in school would respect him for that. You might also think they would have that as their primary focus when they look at him, interact with him and most importantly, set expectations for him.

They don’t.

Sometimes they pay lip service to recognizing he has been through some ‘tough things’ but in terms of really letting that fact change what they expect of him. Nada.

How do I know? One of the biggest classic giveaways – they still come out with comments like the ‘well at his age he should be…’ And believe me, those expectations are deeply ingrained and clearly set.

See the thing is when children experience trauma early in life, at a time when their brain and view of the world is still developing, then something huge can happen. Their brain can get stuck at this age, especially their emotional brain, stunting development of their emotional age. You put a child who has a 10 year old body, and a 10 year old logic, but a 3 year old’s emotional age in a class room and I promise you you will have a ‘problem’. That problem will not be the child. I don’t believe anyone who has survived traumatic events and still turns up to school each day and tries their absolute best to keep up and fit in, even though everyone around does not feel like ‘peers’ to them, or they only experience really ‘connecting’ and relating and being understood by other children when they get to go and ‘help’ out in Nursery or Reception; no child like that is a problem in my eyes.

I think they are heroes.

The problem, if we are allowed to call it that, comes when the adults refuse to embrace the fact they have a child in the class who is different to the others, and keep expecting them to be the same. An adult who in their right mind would never bring in a child from Reception and expect them to concentrate and ‘work independently’ in a year 3 or 4 or 7 class room, but still expect this of our hero.

The problem comes when a school system functions on a ‘one size fits all’ regime of expectations for academic function, social skills and behaviour. The problem comes when the senior staff make decisions about what support this child will or won’t get, determined exclusively by what works best in the accounts.

Children who have been through trauma, and are still marred by the experience are not trying to be awkward on purpose. They are still trying their best to survive in an environment that is causing them harm.

There has to be a different way. There have to be schools led by senior management teams where the grown-ups are prepared to actually learn, grow and be different – in that they truly create a school community and culture that is inclusive and puts the children’s needs first. (In other news, I am starting to work with some of these pioneering places and I am so grateful). A school where every child feels safe and is understood, respected and encouraged to develop at their pace…that’s the dream. Whatever ‘age’ they are.

 

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