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Understanding Emotional Muddles and Trauma Struggles in our Schools

Many children across the UK have suffered, and continue to suffer the effects of early childhood adversity, due to stressful and traumatic events in their early years and beyond.

As a qualified teacher, head teacher, school improvement partnership adviser and as a foster parent, I have professionally seen, experienced and personally felt the despair created within an education system that is broadly focused upon outcomes measures and traditional methods of school discipline and policy.

Schools are busy places and teachers are busy professionals, I do not dispute that.

However, I am often asked how schools can ‘find the time’ to be trauma-sensitive, and how can my colleagues be helped to develop further skills and knowledge in support of trauma-sensitive and attachment friendly approaches.

Put simply:

You cannot learn if you are frightened. You cannot learn if you are upset or unhappy. You cannot learn if you feel that you don’t belong in a classroom, and you cannot learn if your brain is wired for ‘survival’ and the environment that you are being asked to learn in, or the home that you live in, doesn’t feel emotionally safe …

Where do schools begin?

If we begin with neuroscience, toxic stress, brain architecture, self-regulation, emotional co-regulation, neural pathways and executive functioning we might be introducing language and concepts that may feel overwhelming and immediately inaccessible to a busy profession, who are evidently feeling the burden of responsibility within such a demanding and highly scrutinized school system.

Let’s also not forget that whilst there is a growing and desperate need for schools to understand early childhood adversity and the impact of developmental trauma, this is an area of knowledge that is not covered sufficiently within most initial teacher training programs across the UK.

Be bold, throw out the sticker charts, marble jars and weather walls …

So, developed based upon a whole school and systemic approach, and informed by experienced practitioners, our training programme seeks to focus upon the presenting impact that developmental trauma can have on a school, classroom, staff team, family and ultimately the child, who too often find themselves within an education ‘system’ that is not trauma aware, and is heavily based upon a system of behaviour management, enforced through reward, consequence and punishment.

A school system that is often counterproductive to the needs of the child, whether fostered, adopted or those who are seemingly experiencing difficulties at home, within school, through friendships and with life in general.

Our training approach.

We explore the use of sticker charts, marble jars, weather walls, star of the day or golden time, and ask schools to visualize the very children that are already struggling to engage in learning, and those who might be starting to internalise ‘behaviour management’ strategies as ‘unachievable’ as they emotionally and sometimes physically present their underlying feelings of shame, failure and low self-worth.

We encourage schools to think about how their well-intentioned ‘Clouds’ on the ‘Weather Wall’ might progress to lost play, detentions, head teacher time, suspensions and exclusions, whilst perpetuating deep-rooted feelings of shame, low self-worth and ultimately rejection.

Through an intentional and concentrated focus on human connection and the importance of relationships, we explore a ‘what works’ and strengths-based approach to the introduction of attachment aware and trauma-sensitive learning environments.

Connection Cards; Fight, Flight, Freeze, Flock (The Autonomic Nervous System) 

By request, we are now producing our fantastic set of Fight, Flight, Freeze, Flock ‘Connection Cards’ to support all school-based and child facing roles, including; lunch time supervisors, teacher’s, caretakers, teaching assistants, school cooks, school governors and of course the Head teacher, who is the key to promoting relationship-based inclusion.

Designed to support an attachment aware and trauma-sensitive approach to human connection in schools, our simply designed pocket size ‘Connection Cards’ will strengthen and support all relationships within the school community, nursery settings and early years’ provision through a shared language and recognised practice, woven through the school from the playground to the classroom.

Children communicate their feelings through their behaviour, words and actions. It is up to us, as compassionate and caring adults, to provide a sea of calm when children’s emotional muddles might present as a tidal wave in our schools.

For more information contact us by email: or visit

This is a two day programme and a limited number of bookings are still available for the Autumn Term 2018.

Further reading: