It can be difficult for a classroom teacher to deal with students that are victims of abuse. The signs can be hard to identify as many are common in a large variety of disorder-, disability- and special need-related causes. A teacher may not have the time or resources to successfully identify abuse and even when it is recognised, they might feel unequipped to handle the situation.

Nevertheless, teachers play an important role regarding giving support to students that are victims of abuse. As they are with the children for long periods of time during all the days of a school week, they are able to observe them well and are more likely to see changes in behaviour, appearance and well-being. They are also with the students in an environment that is different from the students’ personal and home environment. Environments in which the abuse has a high chance of taking place. Even though abuse is not limited to the students’ home and can also take place at and around the school, the difference in environment can result in an observable change of the student’s behaviour.

When a teacher presents themselves as caring and prepared to help, students who struggle with their abuse are more likely inclined to open up and ask for guidance. As a teacher creates a safe and trusting classroom and educational environment, students can start developing a sense of value and competence (Bates, 2017).

Strategies for providing support for children who are victims of abuse vary depending on the situation. It is most important to create a safe and caring classroom environment in which it is possible for children of abuse to find security and stability. Try not to touch the student, especially if the experienced abuse was of sexual nature, as it can send them the wrong signal. Instead, try to stimulate positive behaviour through verbal and non-verbal encouragements, such as a smile, comments or nods (Bates, 2017).

Unlike children with certain physical impairments or other disabilities and disorders, victims of abuse might not benefit from or want awareness for their situation. For this reason it is important to make sure they are not treated differently from other students, as well as to respect and maintain their privacy if they wish to remain silent about their situation to their peers. (Bates, 2017).

In everyday communication, create a support system that allows the student to find their worth and to feel accepted in the classroom, while recognising that victims of abuse may be struggling with matters such as insecurity and identity. A sense of self-worth can be encouraged through strategies that help the student find positive characteristics of themselves, allowing them to be appreciated by others through the things they can contribute (Bates, 2017).

Lastly, students that are victims of abuse may also struggle with excessive feelings of guilt and blame, often resulting in silence or protective behaviour towards the abuser. This is especially the case if the abuser has a close connection to the child (Bates, 2017).

Do’s and don’ts

When a teacher recognises the needs of a student that is a victim of abuse, it is important to respect, believe and take the child serious as well as to take action. A teacher might feel overwhelmed and stressed to find the right words and take the appropriate actions.

The following points will describe some advice for teachers on what to do and what not to do when dealing with a victim of abuse:


  • Support, believe, and reassure the child;
  • Understand your limits, you are not an investigator;
  • Provide a quiet, safe environment;
  • When you are done talking to the child, write down the child’s exact words;
  • Ask limited, open-ended questions;
  • Respect the child’s right to privacy;
  • Seek help and advice;
  • Report any suspicion of abuse/neglect (mbfpreventioneducation.org, 2018).


  • Make assumptions or premises;
  • Show shock or other emotions;
  • Interrogate or investigate;
  • Put words in the child’s mouth;
  • Be judgmental about the abuser; it is often someone the child loves/trusts;
  • Assume someone else will report abuse (mbfpreventioneducation.org, 2018)

Classroom strategies

According to Alber (2019), supportive classroom practice refers to building and cherishing a comfortable and safe classroom community for all of them. The author suggests that teachers can:

  • Create a sense of safety
  • Give students a sense of control of their environment
  • Work to ensure that students feel connected
  • Teach self-regulation skills
Create a sense of safety

Like other students with special needs, abused and neglected students need to feel safe before they can respond to teachers’ requests and participate with their friends to make successful lessons. Creating a sense of safety refers to giving the students additional space when they need, for example, provide the students with chances to leave their groups and work independently (Alber, 2019).

To meet the needs of safety for these students, teachers might teach a hand-sign system that students can use to express what they need without disrupting other students (Durgin, n.d.). Teachers can adapt hand-sign systems to suit the needs of their abused and neglected students. The picture below is an example:

Classroom Hand Signals Management System, from Teachers Pay Teachers
Give students a sense of control of their environment

A sense of safety goes along with a sense of control of people’s environment. The author emphasised that allowing students, especially abused and neglected students to make choices will help them get a sense of control over what they are doing. Applying universal design learning (UDL) will allow teachers to use plenty of teaching methods to give students equal opportunities in learning (Morin, n.d.). Hence, abused and neglected students have more choices to learn in a comfortable manner. Morin (n.d) also indicated that UDL reduces stigma and does not ignore students with learning difficulties and disabilities. To implement UDL, the author suggested that teachers need to follow three principles:

  • Representation: offering information, knowledge in different ways or formats
  • Action and Expression: giving students more than one ways to access materials
  • Engagement: using multiple ways to hook students to learning

For every teacher, figuring out how to engage students in the lesson is the most challenging part when applying UDL for teaching. You will need to get to know your students well. To learn more about and/or to find some examples of a UDL lesson, please refer to the module on the IRIS Center.

Work to ensure that students feel connected

Abused and neglected students do not get adequate proper care from their parents and adults around them. That is why teachers should often check with students to build good teacher-student relationships (Alber, 2019).

The author suggested a method called 2×10 should be used to build the relationships between abused and neglected students with their teacher. It implies that teachers spend 2 minutes for 10 days in a row talking to the students about their hobbies, interests, or music, for example. However, teachers should be very aware of avoiding asking them questions about schoolwork, homework, home life unless the students start talking about them because such questions can make them more stressed and uncomfortable (Alber, 2019).

Teach self-regulation skills

Parrish (2018) stated that a great number of students with psychological and learning problems such as abused and neglected students often struggle with controlling their emotions or handling their frustration because they lack the right techniques or tools. Hence, teaching the students self-regulation skills will bring success in learning and their future.

Teaching self-regulation can be challenging, especially for new teachers. Parrish (2018) suggested the following strategies to be used in the classroom:

  • Provide structure and tools for learning: a positive environment, clear expectations and guidance on study skills are particularly useful;
  • Scaffold instruction: break learning into smaller chunks;
  • Discuss and reflect: provide objective and nonjudgmental feedback on children’s behaviour;
  • Model and practice appropriate behaviour: use modelling activity such as “think-alouds” or role play.
  • When a teacher wants to introduce the topic of abuse in their classroom, but feels uncomfortable to address abuse in a single lesson, it might be a good idea to work together with colleagues and create a “child abuse prevention week/month”.
Raise awareness about child safety
  • Use sites like this one to get topics for posters, songs videos or plays that students can make to raise awareness and to advocate for child safety.
  • Help children learn and understand 5 Safety Rules to help them respond to bullying and abuse.

There are many books that  are suitable for children in order to talk and create awareness of abuse. You can use the See, Think, Wonder strategy when discussing these books with young children or any discussion strategy that works best for you and your students.

The following website offer a list of numerous books for children that revolve around the topic of abuse:

Title Author Recommended Ages
My Body belongs to Me from My Head to My Toes pro Familia 3-6
Hey, Dog Tony Johnston 4-8
The Invisible Boy Alyssa Hollingsworth
Genesis Begins Again Alicia D. Williams 9-13
Matilda Roald Dahl 8-12
Under Our Cloths Jillian Roberts 6-8
My Quiet Ship Hallee Adelman 4-8
Nobody Knew What to do Becky Ray McCain 5-7


If you suspect abuse…

 “If you suspect that a child is undergoing abuse, it is critical to report it – and to continue reporting each separate incidence if it continues to recur” (Smith, Robinson, Segal, 2019).  Having mentioned this; always be sure to know who to inform when this does happen in your environment and be aware of the consequences it can bring along. Safety is the number one priority when it comes to our children. “One Child is too Many”. (World Vision, 2014)


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Inclusive Perspectives in Primary Education Copyright © 2021 by room305 and Inclusive Education Class 2020-2021 is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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