student writing a checklist in a green notebook

Social-emotional learning (SEL) and trauma-informed teaching techniques have gained major traction as educators seek to support the mental and emotional well-being of their students. In fact, a 2020 study by EdWeek found that 74% of educators were using SEL strategies in the classroom, and a 2019 CDC report noted that trauma is possibly the largest public health issue facing our children.

To help students cope with trauma and stress from the world beyond the classroom, we asked the TpT community for their trauma-informed teaching tips and social-emotional learning best practices. Here’s what they recommend.

How to support social-emotional wellness and help students cope with stress and trauma

1. Model healthy coping skills.

A perfect teaching opportunity is to share your own experiences with your students. By being open about how you’re experiencing the world, you can model for students how they can identify their  feelings and openly communicate about them. “If you find yourself stressed in the middle of a work day, it is okay to communicate that to your students,” says Laura from The Fancy Counselor. “Model for your students how to breathe slowly, take a break from the task at hand, look out the window and be present with nature — all coping skills that help de-escalate anxiety and stress.”

2. Be mindful of what students are going through.

“Educators should understand that everyone reacts to stress differently so it may manifest in different ways for different people,” shares Becky from Smiling Students Lesson Plans. Try to be mindful of all the different (and unknown to you) things your students could be coping with outside of the classroom and keep in mind that their behaviors in class could be a reflection of something completely unrelated to your teaching.

3. Remember to take care of yourself.

Remember that taking care of your own mental health will benefit your students, too. “We, as educators, experienced and are experiencing stress and trauma too,” says Emily from Inclusively Educating, “and that shouldn’t be taken lightly.” Beyond establishing boundaries for working after hours and delegating responsibilities, Emily recommends using your days off. “Don’t feel guilty about it. Self-care is not selfish. You can only be your best when you’re at your best.”

4. Build trust with students.

Building a safe space for social-emotional growth is an important tenet of SEL (more on that in a minute!). But creating that safe space first requires gaining the trust of your students. “Educators need to be conscious of how [trauma can hinder] the feeling of safety for students,” says Emily from  Inclusively Educating. “We must provide predictability, routine, and structure to rebuild this trust.” 

5. Create a safe space.

The first step to building that trust, for many educators, will be creating a safe space. Whether it’s digital, in-person, or somewhere in between, here are a few helpful techniques:

  • “Provide opportunities to have a ‘feelings check’ [. . . Primary teachers can] integrate it into the morning meeting or older students [can use] a sticky note to write/sketch their mood and anonymously display it on the board [. . .] Some students may feel comfort knowing they aren’t the only one stressing about a particular issue. Likewise, it can open a door to see some classmates are dealing with some pretty heavy issues. Educators can make a point to connect with students on a smaller scale during their class period.” — Melissa from Chick on the Run 
  • “[Try] sensory and relaxation activities which your students benefit from, like music while working, movement breaks, wearing a hoodie or cap (even though your policy might be to discourage wearing these in normal circumstances). ” — Kirsten from Curriculum for Autism
  • “Give students a space in your classroom (or virtually) to go to when they are feeling overwhelmed. Students need to know that big emotions are okay and they need to learn appropriate coping skills for self-regulating these emotions. Having a quiet area of your classroom with calming tools is a great way to provide the safety and security kids need when they are stressed out. Don’t have extra room in your classroom? Add a calming area to your classroom library or put a desk in an area by itself.  A calming space does not need to be big or fancy to be effective.” — Amy from Teaching Exceptional Kinders

6. Lean on SEL-based resources.

There are plenty of SEL-based resources available to educators. Start with the CASEL and EASEL guides, which provide frameworks and strategies for incorporating SEL at your school and in your curriculum. From there, you can look for specific teaching resources that work for you. “There’s so much out there,” says Emily from Inclusively Educating. “I know so many of us are worried about providing learning opportunities both face-to-face and online next year, but don’t feel like you have to reinvent the wheel or spend a ton of money. TpT is full of amazing educators that create quality resources for free.” Explore TpT’s resources, and see what makes sense for the social-emotional well-being of you and your students.

SEL resources and activities to help students cope with stress and trauma

Back to School Amid COVID-19 – Handling Big Emotions by Dr Nation’s Education
Grades PreK-2

Emotions: What’s That Emotion? by YNot Counseling
Grades PreK-2

Digital Calm Corner for School or Home Distance Learning by Social Emotional Workshop
Grades 1-3

Mindfulness Exercises: Mindfulness Mandalas and Task Cards Activity Pack by Kiddie Matters
Grades 5-10

Self-Care Handouts For Teachers, Parents And Students by Counselor Chelsey
Not Grade Specific

Stress Management and Self-Care for Teachers by School Counseling is Magical

Staff Resource

When students arrive to class, they bring external stress and trauma with them. By supporting their social-emotional needs and using trauma-informed teaching strategies, you can make school a safe space where they can thrive. For more best practices and strategies for supporting student wellbeing, browse social-emotional learning Easel Activities.