Counteract Students’ Toxic Stress with Positive Relationships

According to more than fifty years research by The Search Institute, the most important way to counteract adverse childhood experiences is with a positive, caring relationship with a self-regulated adult mentor who is knowledgeable about the effects of toxic stress on the brain.

To paraphrase from a recent issue of School Mental Health Journal, when educators “approach students through a trauma lens, they are better equipped to provide the educational and social/emotional supports necessary to help students reach their potential.”  In order for that to happen, schools need to support more intensive professional development beginning with teaching all staff members more about trauma.

This is why I offer consulting services on implementing and training all staff.  For more details on the workshops I offer teachers, click here for workshop descriptions and for a tri-fold flyer.

Less effective schools miss the mark when they have separate silos of support and separate problem-solving by department.  Siloing resources means within the school staff, specialists operate separately and with sole responsibilities for an aspect of the organization.  An example here may be that all behavior problems are referred to the school counselor or principal who handles the situation alone – a silo.  A highly effective trauma-informed school educates all staff to build positive relationships with all students and adults.  Trauma-informed schools train all staff to share responsibilities for awareness, how to respond appropriately to behavioral issues, and more importantly what changes in daily practices will proactively reduce anxiety in children.  A uniform understanding by all makes for a cohesive effort in tackling difficult issues together.

All adults working in a school should be made aware of the high prevalence of childhood toxic stress and understand how and why developing positive relationships with students counteracts the behavior problems that accompany stress.  The key that every adult the child encounters at school, from the bus driver, to the cafeteria monitor, the school secretary, classroom aide, principal and teachers all understand how to interact with students.

As a consultant, I also provide a 3-hour training for support staff (especially bus drivers, monitors, and aides) entitled Defusing the Drama: How to work with kids, so they will work with you.  This is part of one of my consulting services that include follow-up and mentoring for support staff on effectively addressing student behavior problems.

In both the teacher and support staff workshops, attendees learn poor student behavior stems from a child’s lagging social/emotional skills.  A child with underdeveloped social/emotional skills is less able to cope with problems they encounter.  In addition, they respond with the limited skills they have, often making a situation worse.

As a result of my workshops, all adults at school learn to watch for the Seven Indicators of Lagging Social-Emotional Skills and be prepared to resolve behavior problems.  The Seven Indicators are:

  • Anger & Frustration
  • Inflexible Thinking
  • Lack of Empathy
  • Anxiety
  • Difficulty Expressing Thoughts
  • Lack of Self-Regulation
  • Difficulty getting along with peers

Support staff need a toolkit that includes

  • preventative measures,
  • how to defuse an active crisis, and
  • important follow-up steps necessary to prevent a problem from “re-igniting”.

The toolkit of strategies participants develop in my workshop includes:

  • self-regulation (keeping one’s own emotions in neutral)
  • reflective listening
  • coping skills for kids (and adults)
  • understanding student “triggers”
  • proactive strategies that prevent power struggles with adults

All of these provide insight on how to build a positive, respectful working relationship with students and model the skills we want students to learn.

For more on my consulting service and workshops, call me at

716-440-4189 Monday-Friday 9:00 am – 4:00 pm Eastern Time.