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What is Trauma?

When a person is described as having experienced ‘trauma’, this usually means they have gone through or witnessed events that are extremely frightening or upsetting.

Trauma can occur due to a huge range of circumstances from being in a natural disaster or a war zone to experiencing illness, bereavement, homelessness, abuse or going into care. It can be caused by a one-off event or a situation that has gone on for months or even years.

Trauma Can Have Long-Term Effects

According to the website of the charity ‘Mind’, experiencing trauma can have the following impact on mental health, either immediately
or in later years –

  • Panic attacks – the body produces an exaggerated fear response, even when there’s no immediate threat.

  • Flashbacks – reliving events from the past as if they were happening in the present.

  • Dissociation – a feeling of numbness, being detached from your body or ‘spaced out’.

  • Hyperarousal – feeling constantly ‘on edge’ and unable to relax.

  • Sleep problems – having difficulty falling asleep or experiencing nightmares.

  • Low self-esteem – feeling worthless.

  • Self-harm – hurting yourself as a way of managing difficult feelings.

  • Suicidal thoughts – dwelling on ways of ending your life.

  • Alcohol and substance misuse – turning to drink and drugs as a way of blotting out painful feelings and memories.

Trauma Can affect the
Developing Nervous System

When a young person experiences trauma, it can cause changes in their developing brain making them potentially more vulnerable to developing emotional problems as they grow up says The UK Trauma Council, an organisation that offers advice to professionals and policy-makers in the UK on how to help traumatised children to thrive.

This might mean, they say, for example, that a child is more intense or emotionally-reactive than their peers, withdraws socially or finds it difficult to concentrate. They may also find it difficult to maintain positive relationships and have a reduced capacity for motivation and pleasure. Executive function – the ability to organise and make plans – may also be impaired along with the ability to recall everyday events.

How Can a Tutor Support a
Traumatised Student?

In addition to working with kids with all kinds of special needs, tutor Sarah is also a qualified ‘trauma-informed educator’ who supports children who have experienced some of the worst scenarios life can offer.

It’s a reasonably new field, she says, but one which has great potential in helping vulnerable people to make successes of their lives. “Working with trauma, the baseline is safety,” she emphasises. “You have to ensure that the young person feels completely secure with you and build up trust. That can take weeks with some children.”

Creating a Nurturing Environment

To aid this process, Sarah has turned her small classroom at her school into a homely, comforting environment with soft lighting and photos on the walls and offers children a cup of tea and a piece of toast when they arrive. “It’s about taking care of their basic needs and grounding them before we do any work – it works wonders!”

It’s also important, she maintains, to provide strict guidelines on how students are expected to behave with her. “Attachment can be part of the children’s problems and they often want to be your best friend,” she explains. “It’s hard but you’re not their friend or their mum and you need to maintain professional boundaries.”

Supporting Traumatised Children is Rewarding

Other young people, Sarah adds, are very resistant to help at first. “I’ve had numerous kids tell me to ‘f*** off’ but you can never take it personally,” she laughs. “I just keep turning up and follow through on what I say I’m going to do. Eventually, we get to a point where the child
will sit down next to me.

“These children have often been through terrible things such as neglect or abuse – I’ve even worked with kids who’ve witnessed murder,” she concludes. “When you’re a new tutor, this can feel like a big responsibility but you have to learn to step back from the problems and care for yourself or you’ll burn out. But working with trauma is very rewarding. Just seeing a child smile is like ‘painting a rainbow’, as they say!”

Tutor Spotlight


I am a highly experienced and academically published SEND teacher having taught for over 18 years in both Primary and Secondary settings and 20 years in Private Practice, covering Specialist SEND settings, County Council Intervention teams, mainstream, PRU and Secure Children’s Educational settings teaching English, Maths and Sciences.  I teach children ranging from 2.5-21 with ASC, ADHD, Executive Function/study skills, FAS, Dyslexia & Dyscalculia, CP, Complex Trauma, Dyspraxia, Developmental Delay and Self-esteem challenges.  I am a positive role model and mentor to my students being an empathetic and supportive educator.

Rachel’s experience working with children with trauma:

Within my career in SEND, I have specialised in Trauma Informed Teaching for many years, collaborating with Multi Agency Teams; with children and young people with highly complex and intricate cases of Trauma; Care and Case managers and law firms.  I am employed to perform both educational needs assessments, reports for the court and tailored teaching, by my clients.  I am a member of the British Association of Brain Injury and Complex Case Management and am currently undertaking training in Crisis & Trauma Counselling in Early Childhood. 

Rachel’s approach for working with children with trauma:

I support the children I work with in developing strategies to cope with the strong emotions and physical reactions that persist for them and make it difficult for them to form appropriate attachments, access previously acquired skills and regression.  I create safe and accepting learning environments and use structure and routine with the children, I also ensure the learner is fully aware of what ‘is coming next’ to ensure they don’t experience unexpected events.  I set achievable goals and opportunities for the children to help build resilience, mastery and control in their accomplishments.  This experience and training have given me a deep understanding of the needs of a child who has been exposed to Trauma.

Rachel’s top tips navigating the challenges of supporting children with complex trauma:

  • Fostering a safe and understanding environment is paramount, as is understanding that healing is a gradual process which requires unwavering patience.

  • Consistent and open communication is a cornerstone which encourages the child/young person to express their feelings without judgement.

  • The establishment of predictable routines provides an important sense of stability; patience and empathy help to build trust during difficult moments where routines breakdown.

  • Parents and carers often overlook the importance of their own self-care, which is vital to ensure they can maintain the resilience needed on the journey with their child or young person; understanding that it is essential to take time for yourself in order to help your loved one is a crucial aspect of maintaining the whole family well being when supporting trauma.

Useful contacts


The UK Trauma Council –


Krista is a qualified SEN tutor and has a SpLD accreditation (Dyscalculia, Dyslexia and ADHD).

She mentions that she has “worked with many students with a diagnosis of dyscalculia in both school and one to one settings.  Often high levels of anxiety accompany a young person with dyscalculia, especially around maths and memory.  

I make relieving and reducing anxiety a key component of my lessons, focussing on encouragement and confidence building.  Depending on the age and interests of each student I employ techniques and activities such as rhymes, maths games, revision and flash cards, breaking down tasks into bite size chunks, making tasks visual, lots of repetition, and of course by making learning engaging and fun.

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