Sometimes troubling events from outside the classroom have a way of intruding on classroom and one-on-one discussions with students. After all, students often look to faculty for guidance in understanding the world around them, and course topics often focus or touch on troubling world events. What follows are some general guidelines that may prove helpful in managing emotionally-laden classroom and one-on-one discussions.

Listen Actively

The goal of active listening is to understand and be able to reflect back the unique experiences of your students. This is critical to any helping relationship because:

  • It gives you more information and insight into students and their concerns.
  • It gives distressed students a chance to talk and as a result calm down. In addition, the students may be able to clarify their concerns for themselves.
  • It gives students a feeling of genuine caring and concern.
    Components of active listening include undivided attention, restating and clarifying students’ comments, labeling and validating feelings, open ended questioning, and expression of genuine concern.

Promote Resilience

Resilience is “the process and outcome of successfully adapting to difficult or challenging life experiences, especially highly stressful or traumatic events” (Butler, Hobfoll, & Keane, 2003, p. 1). Steps in promoting resilience include:

  • Assure the students that their reactions to distressing events, although unpleasant, are normal (i.e., it is normal to experience sleep problems, changes in appetite, sadness, low energy, irritability, anger, fear, inability to focus, difficulty making decisions, bouts of crying, and nightmares for a short time after a traumatic event). It is of concern, however, if symptoms last for several weeks or have a significant impact on day-to-day functioning.

  • Listen for and correct misconceptions, misinterpretations, and misinformation.

  • Help re-establish a sense of control—reinforce the ways that students can keep safe and the proactive things they can do to effect positive changes.

  • Learn more about resilience by reading this “Road to Resilience” brochure from the American Psychological Association.

Don’t Beat a Dead Horse

While some group discussion can be very helpful, people sometimes also need a break from thinking and talking about a traumatic event, and can feel distressed when it seems like the event is inescapable. Go with the flow of your class.

Take Care of Yourself

Hearing about someone else’s struggles can be difficult and can leave you feeling emotionally drained. Remember to find your own discussion outlets for dealing with your own emotions.


The information that appears below is drawn from the Center for Counseling and Student Wellness brochure, A Referral Guide for Faculty and Staff. You may also contact someone at the CCSW for hard copies of this brochure (ext. 3388).


Preparing Students to Lead Lives of Consequence.