February 1, 2021
Dr. Peg Oliveira from the Gesell Program in Early Childhood at Yale presented an informative and timely workshop on Saturday, January 23. The workshop dealt with Trauma-informed Practices That Can Benefit All Children, but honestly I got so much out of her presentation that I can apply to my own life. You probably noticed a lot of references to information and practices that have been presented in Conscious Discipline workshops. Building relationships, establishing routines, and building resilience in children through support and practice are the foundation of trauma informed practices. It is the foundation on which learning can happen.
We are all dealing with trauma during these difficult times. Each person has a unique story filled with circumstances no one else can understand. The coronavirus is unprecedented in that its impact is community wide and does not stay within the boundaries of economics, race, gender, religion, etc. Even though Dr. Oliveira states that all trauma is not bad, prolonged trauma without having sufficient coping skills impacts people physically and emotionally. The brain can actually adapt to the stresses of prolonged trauma and learn to behave in a fight or flight way. Relating this to Conscious Discipline, the brain is stuck in the survival state. It reacts without thinking to protect itself by fighting back, withdrawing or running away. Until a trusting relationship is formed no significant learning can occur.
The love, empathy and understanding shown within relationships is what helps children break from the habit of fight, flight, or withdrawal. They learn to feel emotions, and then move through them. Better choices can be made. This can take a long time. Remember, a child may have depended on an adult who exposed them to harmful circumstances. They may have experienced the death of a loved one, homelessness, hunger, or unstable adults in their life. They may feel fear and anxiety. Young children may not have had the chance to see and practice the coping skills needed to handle stressful experiences.
As educators you cannot take away the feelings a child is having due to circumstances beyond your control. You can provide love, empathy, and understanding to help them build a trusting relationship so they feel connected, loved and accepted. You can teach children how to calm, identify their feelings and pause before they react. Practicing everyday will help children learn new more positive habits that enhance their ability to bounce back from the inevitable stress they will experience in life.
Dr. Oliveira suggested the following classroom practices to help children build resilience:
Routines help children feel secure and in control. They know what is coming next. Things are predictable. A visual schedule gives children the opportunity to see for themselves what is coming next.
Starting the day with a structured activity helps children move from an unstructured home into the secure and structured school environment. Having table games or floor toys out helps children move into the day without having to make choices and have conflict from the start.
Developmentally appropriate activities help children feel success without frustration. It is important to know the developmental milestones. Children need a good foundation to build upon. They cannot successfully, and without frustration, move to cutting with a scissors if they have never developed the proper grip strength to handle the scissors.
Be aware of difficult situations and transitions. Children who have little structure or routine are on high alert for what may come next. Surprises may not be welcome! Warn children of changes in schedule and new situations. Practice transitions so they know what is happening and the appropriate way to respond. Proximity to an adult or trusted friend may smooth the way through new situations.
Creating rituals to support and practice calming and co-regulation gives children the pause to learn how to go from their survival state to the emotional and executive state where they learn to self-regulate. I Love You Rituals, soothing songs, familiar music, breathing, etc. can calm and remind children that they are safe and loved.
Every educator is committed to do no harm. It is our wish that the information shared by Dr. Peg Oliveira will help to build resilience and the ability to bounce back from stress.
We are wishing you well!
Susan and the Childcare Resources team
ACES (Adverse Childhood Experiences) https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/aces/fastfact.html?CDC_AA_refVal=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cdc.gov%2Fviolenceprevention%2Facestudy%2Ffastfact.html
This page contains a link to the ACES questionnaire.
Social Emotional Learning and Covid https://casel.org/resources-covid/
Working with Traumatized Children, A Handbook for Healing. by Kathryn Brohl
This book was specifically recommended by Dr. Oliveira in January's workshop.