How educators can support students in difficult home situations

Going to school may seem like a chore or a regular routine for some children, but for some, it’s a way to seek refuge. Kids who live in abusive or toxic home environments often feel safer within the four walls of their classrooms. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) estimates that 40% of U.S. students experience trauma at home, so how can educators support students in difficult home situations?
This guide explains a few critical steps that educators can take to make every student feel safe and welcomed at school. Although teachers may never learn what’s really going on behind closed doors, they can encourage their students to seek help by welcoming them with open arms.

Make a safe classroom

Trauma creates unique triggers that make people feel unsafe in public places. Teachers can eliminate these triggers within their classrooms by going above and beyond to create a safe space. Point out every exit when the school year begins and fill the walls with colorful, encouraging posters. If students know how to evacuate and surround themselves with positivity, every classroom will feel safer.

Encourage their autonomy 

Children don’t control many aspects of their lives. Students in difficult home situations control even less than that, but they can embrace their autonomy in the classroom with a bit of encouragement. Let them choose where they sit every day or what projects they get to work on. Even letting them pick what activities they’ll do during recess reaffirms the ownership they have over their lives.

Teach anxiety relief tools

Educators can’t be there for students while they’re at home, but instructors can teach them anxiety relief tools to use before and after school. Identifying negative thoughts and redirecting them is a powerful way to combat stress and fear, but kids can also learn breathing techniques at a young age.
Ask students to imagine their favorite food, like a slice of pizza or a bowl of mac and cheese. As they take a deep breath, they should imagine inhaling the comforting aroma of the food. Everyone should then slowly release their breath to cool the food and make it ready to eat.
Whether certain students endure verbal abuse, physical threats or other toxic environments, they can use helpful tools like these to remain calm until things get better. As teachers learn how to help students in bad home situations, they can remember that giving young people control over their reactions to bad situations is a great way to help them beyond the classroom.

Identify their descriptions  

Children and teens don’t always have the vocabulary to describe what’s happening at home or how they feel about it. They might use strange words or phrases to talk about their lives.
Listen for trigger words like “mommy juice,” which they may echo from mothers who are closeted alcoholics. The number of women with drinking addictions increased by over 80% between 2002 and 2013 and has worsened further during COVID-19, so it’s a more common problem for kids to encounter at home.
Thinking outside the box is how educators can help students with difficult home lives. Teachers might have to translate what they mean to understand what they deal with outside of school and get them the best help possible. 

Check in with them

Some students may not trust any adults because older individuals have always caused them pain. They won’t feel comfortable coming forward to talk with their teachers, but checking in with kids is a powerful way for educators to increase their support for students with problems at home.
Ask them how they’re doing and encourage them to talk anytime about what’s on their mind. Repeatedly opening conversations will show them that they can always find support in their teacher. Educators can also look for symptoms of depression that may not typically raise red flags, like frequent sadness or social isolation. They could point to something more serious that the student doesn’t want to address, but needs help anyway from a school psychologist.

Maintain class structure

Divorce is a common but difficult challenge for kids and teenagers. Maintaining class structure gives them stability in a time of significant change. It could mean having the same schedule every day or always conducting the same weekly activities. The structure will ground them in turbulent times because they’ll always know what to expect.

Model positive relationships

Toxic adults unknowingly teach kids that all relationships look like the ones they have at home. It’s up to educators to point out examples of healthy relationships in textbook questions or reading assignments. Empower students to recognize unhealthy attributes at home and with future friends. They can break the cycle of abuse as they grow up. Teachers who want to help students in bad home situations can use this simple tip as an excellent way to get started.

Schedule daily downtime

Downtime allows students to process whatever they’re dealing with. Schedule naps for younger kids, plus coloring breaks or reading periods. Journaling can also become a great tool because students can think through conflict or express their emotions without fear of their parents finding their entries. Educators who want to create support for students with problems at home can use downtime to encourage personal growth.

Support students with problems at home

This guide shows how to help students with difficult home lives, but one solution won’t work for every child who lives in a toxic environment. Try different techniques to reach everyone who needs help. Teachers will quickly become a stable support system for their students and make life better for them while they’re at school.

About the Author

Ginger Abbot special education

Ginger Abbot is an education and lifestyle writer with a passion for learning. Read more of her work on, where she serves as Editor when she’s not freelancing.

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