For Challenging Behaviors – Relationships are the Solution

by Dr. Will Henson

I was recently consulting with educators about a student who had a lot of trauma. The student was having a lot of behavioral challenges commonly associated with students with adverse childhoods. After a while the teacher expressed frustration.

 “I adore this kid. I’ve had him for two years. We have a great relationship. But I’m worried I’m not helping him. He still has challenging behaviors. He’s behind academically, maybe he would be better in a behavior program.”  

This frustration is understandable. We pour so much time and effort into these students, and we want to know that we are making a difference. What I pointed out to this teacher is that the effort is the solution. Creating a safe space for a student who has experienced trauma, showing them that someone cares, and showing up every day is absolutely making an impact. 

While it is important to consider the student’s overall progress, and to be thinking about ways to make improvement; thinking and talking about his problems are nowhere near as powerful as having someone who truly cares. I can’t predict if this student will eventually need to go to a special program, or not. But what I want to stress to educators is that trauma is healed through relationships. Being a present, calm, and predictable adult that truly cares – as educators uniquely can – actually changes the brain.

The relationships that students form with all staff members at their school are valuable. Even classified staff, who may only have brief interactions with students can have a positive impact. Together, the administrators, teachers and classified staff members work to build an environment of stability, predictability, and caring. These efforts are hard to measure, but absolutely felt by the students in their care. It’s an incredibly powerful therapy that needs no training at all to perform.  So remember, next time you feel like a kid needs “more” than you can provide, you actually do have the ability to provide the most basic and most important healing element for trauma – your caring relationship. 

Leave a comment