Traumatised children in the playground

This is how a school can normalize, and support students struggling with, mental health problems. Click here to learn more or read an excerpt below.


In almost every school there are children suffering from trauma. Often teachers will be unaware that children have experienced or witnessed traumatic incidents, in particular the many children who are affected by domestic violence. These children may have witnessed violence, been injured while trying to intervene and/or been the victims of direct abuse.  Research shows that the severity of the impact on children is similar regardless of whether they witness violence or are victimised themselves.

Children who experience domestic violence come from an environment of unpredictable stress. To survive they learn coping strategies such as defiance, withdrawal and avoidance. Some may imitate the perpetrator and act aggressively towards teachers and classmates. These are all problematic behaviours at school.

The playground can be the most difficult area of the school for children affected by domestic violence. Whilst they often conform in the classroom as they may be used to avoiding being noticed; in the playground they often do not know what to do, and therefore get into trouble.

Many of these children are unable to play because they have spent their lives being watchful and do not know how to let go. However they can be taught to play. Playground games are wonderful for teaching young children the emotional regulation skills lacking in traumatised children. Systematically teaching children to play games like, What’s the time Mr Wolf?, Statues, chasing  or ball games will help to increase their engagement in schooling and diminish the number of playground incidents, while building lifetime skills of regulating their emotions.

Many argue that the playground is the most important area in the school because it is where children learn the social skills that will sustain them throughout life. It is also a place where children, whose home life is grim, can have fun. We do however need to be mindful of the need to teach children the skills they need to play and socialise effectively.


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