Teachers are catching on to the importance of designing a trauma-informed space in their classrooms. The term “trauma-sensitive” (or “trauma-informed”) refers to the practice of being knowledgeable about the prevalence of trauma in our communities, and the commitment to create spaces that are emotionally and physically safe for those who’ve been through trauma.
As an educator, more of your students may have experienced trauma than you realize. Reports show that almost 40% of all K-12 students will go through at least one traumatic event before they turn 16.
That’s why trauma-sensitive mindfulness is so critical to ensure that every student feels safe and can benefit from this practice. Here are 5 exercises you can start with.
Why Do Mindfulness Exercises Need to Be Trauma-Sensitive?
For kids who’ve been through trauma, certain mindfulness practices could be triggering for them. For example, mandating them to close their eyes may make students feel defenseless and vulnerable if they’re used to being constantly hypervigilant of their surroundings.
Asking them to sit with their emotions may feel overwhelming, as it’s asking them to come face-to-face with their traumatic experiences. Facing trauma before they’re ready (and without the support of a trained therapist) could be harmful and increase anxiety for some kids.
That’s why it’s important for any mindfulness practice you use in your classroom to be trauma-sensitive. Mindfulness should never feel scary. Trauma-sensitive mindfulness lessons can help make every student feel safe when practicing mindfulness, regardless of their trauma history.
5 Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness Exercises to Try With Your Students
Now that you understand the importance of using trauma-sensitive mindfulness practices, here are 5 easy activities that you can start with.
Sometimes, sitting meditation can be overwhelming for kids who’ve been through trauma. Especially if their trauma is ongoing, they’re used to feeling like they constantly need to be on “high alert” to protect themselves. Being asked to sit still may feel scary and uncomfortable.
But sitting meditation is far from the only way to practice mindfulness. One great alternative is walking meditation. Have your class go on a meditative walk together. They should walk slowly, feeling the ground beneath their feet with each step. If they’d like, they can pair each step with their breathing – taking two steps for each inhale, and three for each exhale.
If you have a place on-campus where your students can safely walk barefoot, then that’s even better!
Grounding with colors
Many trauma-informed mindfulness exercises invite participants to stay grounded in the world around them (rather than their internal world, which some people may not be ready for). One great way to do this with students is to use colors.
Ask your students to pay attention to, and name, the colors around them. Invite them to pay attention to all of the subtle differences in shades. You can even gamify this by challenging your class to come up with as many different colors as possible.
Grounding with sound
Another way to help students be mindful of the external world is by using sound. Bring some kind of reverberating bell to your classroom (singing bowls are a great option). Ask your students to listen closely to the sound of the bell when you ring it.
Invite them to pay very close attention to the reverberating echoes of the sound until they’re sure it’s completely silent. When it’s silent, they can raise their hands quietly. This activity encourages students to practice mindfulness of hearing – to be mindful of quiet sounds that we don’t usually pay attention to.
Sitting still in silent sitting meditation may be overwhelming for some students who have trauma – but that doesn’t mean you can’t use any breathing exercises at all. Pairing breathing with some sort of small body movement sometimes helps kids to truly focus on their breathing and not get lost in scary memories or thoughts.
One way to do this is through 5-finger breathing. Have students place their hands, palm down, on a sheet of paper. Then, they can trace the outline of their hand (either with the index finger of their other hand or with a pencil). As they breathe in, they can move their finger upward, along the side of their hand; as they breathe out, they move down into the crevice between their thumb and index finger.
Body awareness activities
Promoting body awareness is another great way to safely practice mindfulness. You can invite your students to engage in simple stretches. This can be especially effective because trauma is often stored in the body. Helping students be more aware of how their body feels can prepare them to heal from trauma in the future (with the help of a therapist).
If you’d like, you can invite a P.E. or yoga teacher to guide your class in these stretches. But there are also a wealth of resources online that you can use yourself.
Trauma-Informed Mindfulness Program: Calm Classroom
At Calm Classroom, our entire school-based mindfulness curriculum is trauma-sensitive and safe for every student, no matter what they’ve gone through. Our program was designed by experts who know the importance of emotionally safe mindfulness practice. We’ve worked with dozens of schools to implement mindfulness programs on their campuses.
Sign up for a free trial of our program today.