Trauma Informed Practice During Evenings and Weekends

Dr. Leanne Johnson, Head of Trauma Informed Practice and Standards & Shirley Tudor, Head of Occupational Therapy Practice and Standards

Effective Trauma Informed Practice is to support young people in environments across their whole day and week to achieve the best outcomes.

Many children and young people who have experienced trauma (early life, education and or/autistic trauma) during important stages of development may not have had exposure or been able to access a wide range of activities. Due to being in survival mode, they may not have felt safe enough to develop specific interests or passions and may have difficulty with choice and decision making. This can become a further barrier to developing a sense of their own self-identity.

It is important to remember that use of free time is impacted on by many factors such as life experiences, access to opportunities, the individual’s physical, cognitive and psychological resources, as well as cultural, social and economic factors.

Access to activities

Access to activities during evenings and weekends should never be restricted for young people as a result of behaviour (as long as they are safe enough to do so – they should then be offered an alternative instead). Supporting young people’s engagement during these times will help build trust and relationships and enable them to feel better about themselves – which will improve emotional and behavioural regulation in the longer term.

Children and young people sometimes need to be organised and encouraged to participate actively, otherwise they tend to while away their time unproductively or involve themselves in passive activities such as watching TV or spending time on mobile phones.

Examples of constructive, purposeful and meaningful leisure time activities:


Board games, construction games, card games, problem solving games, drawing games, guessing games.

Music activities/clubs

Singing, musical instruments, musical appreciation for different genres, focused listening to different types of music.

Nature activities/clubs

Forest school activities, gardening project- sensory or vegetable, scouts/cubs/guides/rangers (if able to access externally)

Crafts & creative project

Sewing, weave friendship bracelets, beading jewellery, mosaic, photography, collage, paper mâché, modelling clay


Painting, card making, paper making, colour by number, relaxation colouring in books, scrap book/journaling, create mood boards.


Yoga, gym, bike riding, nature walk, dancing, jump on a trampoline, running, walking


Recreational and team sports, football, basketball, netball, swimming, aerobics, tennis

Group games

Capture the flag, treasure/scavenger hunt, charades, rounders

Problem solving

Sudoku, word search, crosswords, brain teasers, puzzles, memory game

Baking & cooking activities

Research recipes, bake for class or home, cook a meal, cake decorating and icing

Making and playing with playdough

Make playdough of different colours and add some drops of vanilla or essential oils to it (keep in an airtight container)

Helpful chores

Washing a car, vacuuming, sweeping the garden, helping tidy up, sorting and organising toys, basic cleaning

Personal care

Braid and style hair, paint nails, nail art, pamper session.

Key Principles:

  • Use play as a medium to build relationships
  • Activities should promote opportunities for free movement and suspension from the normal pressures of daily life
  • Be consistent and constant in your approach
  • Be encouraging and support participation
  • Allow the child or young person individuality, ask for their opinions, ideas, wishes and share their contribution or achievements
  • Allow the child or young person to make decisions and encourage them to take responsibility for their activities, especially as they get older
  • Activities should be carried out in an area that is safe and secure
  • Make expectations clear, as they need structure and to know what to expect
  • Participation in these activities should evoke a feeling of anticipation and pleasure
  • Use simple instructions and work step-by-step
  • Encourage the child or young person to stick with the activity until completion, or work towards this over time
  • Allow for exploration of equipment and materials
  • Emphasis should be on involvement not on an end product, as this could be anxiety provoking for some
  • Remember any cultural considerations when selecting an activity

Supporting Choice:

Find out what young people find tricky about unstructured time and what they enjoy. Finding their strengths and activities they enjoy can support them in overcoming challenges in evenings or at weekends. Offer choice to engage children and help them create ownership of their environment. Adapted visual strategies may be helpful for this, such as choice boards and/or using a visual timetable to structure leisure times.