Information about common thoughts and feelings after a traumatic experience can help to calm distressed students who may otherwise believe that they are the only ones experiencing such symptoms. The knowledge provided can help students, for example, see that their irritability, nightmares, sadness, and inability to concentrate since the traumatic event are not unusual and do not mean they are weak or "going crazy." They can also start to anticipate and plan for painful memories or problematic reactions by learning to identify personal trauma or loss reminders. These reminders may be specific people, places, activities, or situations that somehow remind them of the traumatic event that happened and that can elicit painful memories, post-traumatic symptoms, and problematic coping behaviors.
Training in emotional awareness involves the development of specific skills that can help students monitor and describe what they are feeling. For example, counselors may use simple body charts or drawings to help young students identify where and how they experience different emotions (e.g. "It sounds like Robert tends to experience his worry as a cramping in his stomach while Latasha notices that she is worrying when her breathing gets fast and she feels a little dizzy.")
It is also helpful to use "feeling thermometers" or other visual aids to help students scale the intensity of their emotions ("When I went home and saw that my Mom had been crying, I just got so down, like an 8 or a 9 out of 10,") or "emotion charts" and other approaches to expand the students emotional vocabulary and to learn how to describe gradations of emotions ("OK, so you weren't just upset or angry, you were furious! Can you show us how that felt inside and then show us how it looked to the people around you.")
These basic monitoring and expressive skills help the student identify emotions and reactions, track changes in emotions during the day, and tie these changes to specific situations or evocative reminders. This aids students in discriminating between real threats of danger and environmental reminders of threat.
Training in anxiety management and coping skills can take many different forms and may involve teaching the student basic relaxation skills (for example, abdominal breathing or progressive muscle relaxation,) the use of self-calming phrases, distraction techniques, and positive activity scheduling. Cognitive coping skills can be very effective in giving an anxious student greater control of extreme and distressing emotions. For example, counselors can teach students how to monitor automatic thoughts, discriminate hurtful from helpful thoughts, identify cognitive distortions, and challenge and replace harmful thoughts.
Another important set of coping skills has to do with accessing appropriate support. Traumatized students frequently feel very alone with their problems and, in fact, tend to isolate themselves from available support. Counselors or trained teachers can help students identify the specific types of support that would be helpful during this time, evaluate their current support network, and develop a practical strategy for accessing and asking for the needed types of support.
Traumatized students may also benefit if their parents are provided with education regarding post-traumatic distress and grief symptoms and specific guidelines for how to support their child.
Click here  for a vignette of one student's experience in the early days of recovery.
Click here for Resources for Schools, where you will find descriptions of programs for all phases of recovery, contact information, and useful links.