have happened (Kagan 2004). Through the healing process, students can
move on to face the future in spite of the experience. They are empowered
to proceed with their development, become an active learner, and pursue
their destiny (Brendtro, Mitchell, and McCall 2009).
The key is to remember that it is difficult for words to reach the brain
of an actively distressed student. Educators cannot “talk” children out
of the irritating and frustrating behaviors that are a result of traumatic
stress. Many educators are taught to say, “Use your words” when chil-
dren are physically acting out a hurt or frustration. Trauma-informed
teachers understand saying this may add to the disconnect and stress
between teacher and student, who may not be functioning on a words-
and-logic level. Trauma-informed educators realize that telling a student
to calm down and make better choices also does not work, because a
traumatized student may not be able to process logical choices (Levine
and Kline 2007).
Likewise, traditional discipline cannot be used to address and heal the
cause of these behaviors. Children experience healing when they are able
to externalize the memories that would otherwise eventually disempower
them (Steele and Malchiodi 2012).
Identifying and Labeling Feelings and Sensations
Being able to identify and label feelings and sensations is a preventive
tool as well as a vital step in the healing process. Many young children
are bewildered by feelings, which are intangible and difficult to explain
to a child. Some may have been told not to have some of them, like anger
and jealousy. Feelings are abstract and uncertain issues for children. Fre-
quently children try to ignore uncomfortable feelings rather than using
the energy of their feelings to help them make sense of life and keep them
safe (Kagan 2004; Perry and Szalavitz 2006).
Children need safe places to practice naming and identifying their
own feelings and those of others. Identifying the feelings in photographs
showing facial expressions is a great way to practice; so is looking in a
mirror and making faces showing sad, scared, excited, happy, and so on.
The more comfortable children are in identifying and labeling feelings,
the more able they will be to comfortably own them and be empowered
by them. The goal is to encourage students to move beyond the customary
glad, sad, and bad. The greater the comfort in naming feelings, the deeper
will be the realization that they are natural and normal.
Implementing the Trauma-Informed Classroom