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Warning Signs

The impact of crises may affect students and adults in different ways. Knowing the signs that are common at different ages can help teachers, school administrators, and individuals recognize problems and respond appropriately. Schools can play an important role by reinforcing normal routines and providing students and teachers with information on ways to cope with the stress and aftermath of crises.

Preschool and Kindergarten

Students ages 3–5 may regress to an earlier behavioral stage, cling to a parent or teacher, or become attached to a place where they feel safe. Changes in eating and sleeping habits are also common. Reassurance is key for this age group. Maintain a normal classroom routine and encourage students to express their feelings through play and artwork. Respond to students’ questions with simple and clear answers.

Elementary School

Students ages 6–11 may have some of the same reactions that younger children have. They also may withdraw from playgroups and friends, compete more for the attention of teachers, be unwilling to leave home, be less interested in schoolwork, become aggressive, have added conflict with peers or parents, or find it hard to concentrate. Physical reactions such as headaches or stomachaches are also common. These students will benefit from opportunities to express their emotions through play and artwork. Encourage students to participate in recreational activities. Schools should work to create as much stability and consistency as possible.

Middle and High School

Students ages 12–18 are likely to have physical complaints when under stress, and they may be less interested in schoolwork or other responsibilities that they previously handled. Although some students may compete vigorously for attention from teachers, they also may withdraw; resist authority; become disruptive or aggressive at home or in the classroom, which may manifest as bullying-type behavior; or begin to experiment with high-risk behaviors, such as alcohol or drug use.

Answer questions about the event honestly, but do not dwell on the details or allow the event to dominate classroom time indefinitely. Allow students to express themselves through conversation and writing. Acknowledge that school performance may be affected and consider modifying lesson plans.

In addition to the suggestions above, the following tips can help teachers and school administrators address the needs of the school community affected by crises.

From Guide for Parents and Educators: Tips for Talking to Children and Youth After Traumatic Events


In the aftermath of a crisis, most stress symptoms are temporary and will resolve on their own in a fairly short amount of time. However, for some people, these symptoms may not go away as quickly as they would like and it may influence their relationships with family and friends. If you find yourself or a loved one experiencing some of the feelings and reactions listed below for 2 weeks or longer, this may be a sign that you need to reach out to a licensed mental health professional for additional assistance:

  • Crying spells or bursts of anger
  • Difficulty eating
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Losing interest in things
  • Increased physical symptoms, such as headaches or stomachaches
  • Fatigue
  • Feeling guilty, helpless or hopeless
  • Avoiding family and friends

From Tips for Survivors of a Traumatic Event: Managing Your Stress.