20 September 2021

Providing support following traumatic experiences

Suggestion for implementing the strategy ‘Support emotional wellbeing and positive mental health’

Understanding trauma

Understanding trauma

Children are faced with many adverse events during childhood.

Build your understanding of why some events result in trauma.

Trauma results from an event, series of events, or set of circumstances that is experienced by an individual as harmful or threatening and has lasting adverse effects on the individual’s physical, social, emotional, or spiritual wellbeing (Liberty, 2017).

It is important to recognise that most children recover well from traumatic experiences if they have access to: 

  • safe, inclusive environments 
  • responsive relationships that support understanding and problem solving around difficult times.

Source: School-wide strategies for reducing stress and promoting healthy learning environments: Effects of interventions (opens in a new tab/window)

How to explain the stress response to children

How to explain the stress response to children

Nigel Latta explains how to support children to understand the impact of traumatic stress on their own brains.

Recognise responses to trauma

Recognise responses to trauma

Children react to traumatic experiences differently to adults.

Children and young people may:

  • withdraw 
  • become upset 
  • seem anxious 
  • be preoccupied with the event in their play or drawing 
  • have problems sleeping
  • have stomach aches or headaches.

Select effective approaches

Select effective approaches

Learn how to help students recover from a traumatic experience.

Approaches that can help:

  • Reassure students that the event is over and they are safe.
  • Emphasise that feeling upset or afraid is normal, and that asking questions and telling you how they are feeling will help, that with time they will feel better.
  • Be understanding – students will present a range of emotions and behaviours that will pass over the coming weeks.
  • Give extra attention.
  • Remember you are a role model. Students will look to their parents and teachers to both feel safe and to know how to respond and take care of themselves and others.
  • Keep routines – maintain a predictable classroom routine as this will reinforce feelings of safety.

 Approaches to avoid:

  • Repeatedly talking about the details of a traumatic event.  
  • Saying “don’t worry” or “don’t be upset”.
  • Being over-protective.

Source: Ministry of Health | Manatū Hauora (opens in a new tab/window)

Knowing when to contact whānau

Knowing when to contact whānau

There may be times when you will need to connect with a child's whānau.

Contact the child’s whānau when you notice the following:

  • a child’s distress is consistently escalating
  • the child is displaying worrying behaviours such as extreme withdrawal, or a terror that you cannot comfort them from
  • the effects are continuing to have an impact on the child and you feel that things are not improving, or not improving fast enough.

If whānau ask you for advice, recommend the following:

  • contact a local GP
  • call or text 1737 (free, anytime, 24/7) – to talk with a trained counsellor.

Source: Ministry of Health (opens in a new tab/window)

Useful resources

Useful resources


Trauma-informed education part 1: The impact of trauma on learners

Publisher: Victoria University of Wellington



Mental health advice for coping after a traumatic event

Publisher: Ministry of Health | Manatū Hauora

Visit website

Next steps

Return to the guide “Behaviour and learning”

Guide to Index of the guide: Behaviour and learning

Strategies for action: