Classroom discourse matters. The language teachers’ use, and the opinions they share, help strengthen the neural pathways that are responsible for children’s concept development and higher order thinking. In the case of children with early trauma histories, these classroom experiences increase the likelihood of their participation and success.
Wondering how that works? Here are some examples.
Children with early trauma histories have trouble with anticipatory set and sequence. Their lives are often chaotic and lack predictable routines. As a result, they are anxious about “what comes next”. They struggle with following multi-step directions and responding to questions in a logical order. When teachers use sports-casting or forecasting to talk out loud about upcoming events, or the steps required to complete a task, they help children strengthen the neural pathways needed to understand sequential thought. Their anxiety is reduced and their ability to order information in a logical manner improves.
When teachers use the context of an experience to label the feeling or emotion associated with it, they help children learn to interpret their physical reactions based on the context in which they occur. This is an important skill for children for whom any type of arousal triggers the “flight, fight, freeze” response. They don’t know that different experiences evoke similar bodily sensations. Or that the meaning of the sensations are defined by the context in which they occur. Increasing children’s ability to name feelings and emotions helps them tolerate increased arousal during safe, enjoyable activities. They are able to participate without experiencing overwhelming fear or dread.
Self-talk is another powerful strategy teachers can use to increase the participation and success of children with early trauma histories. Adults use this strategy all the time. It’s the internal dialog that reminds us to pick up groceries for dinner, or refuse that cookie when we are trying to lose weight. This inner voice keeps us on track, and is an effective tool for reaching our goals and avoiding self-destructive behaviors.
Let children observe you “talking to yourself”. Instead of internally reviewing how you’re going to set up an activity, do it out loud. Each time you let them in on these “private conversations” you build their capacity to use the strategy themselves. So let them hear what you say to yourself to revise a plan that’s not working, or to encourage yourself to try again! There are no limits to how you can model the use of language to monitor and control behavior!