Last week, as schools across the nation closed their doors to slow the spread of the coronavirus, TT reached out to our community to learn what support you needed at this time. Among the most common responses was a call for trauma-informed practices to support students over the coming weeks and months.
For guidance, we reached out to our friends at the National Child Traumatic Stress Network with a series of questions. A group of researchers, psychologists and educators were quick to respond. We’re grateful to Laura Danna, Dr. Jane Halladay Goldman, Dr. Jen Maze, Dr. George Ake and Dr. Isaiah Pickens for their answers, and we hope their recommendations offer some much-needed support during this difficult time.
What are a few key points educators need to understand about stress, trauma and their effects? Are there specific approaches to student support they should be prioritizing during this crisis?
When people are facing stress and difficult life circumstances, it can particularly affect three areas: a sense of safety, feelings of connectedness and feelings of hope. In each of these areas, educators can make an impact.
Sense of Safety
A sense of safety is the belief that your needs—and the needs of those you care about—will be met. It is a belief that you will be protected from harm and that those around you will be safe. Educators can expect that many students’ sense of safety will be compromised right now. None of us have ever seen a time like this, when institutions that provide safety and structure are closed, and the news talks about death rates and hospital bed shortages. For the many families that are experiencing or will experience significant income loss, this crisis may also mean food insecurity or an inability to pay rent and bills—all of which can severely damage a child’s sense of safety.
But there are steps educators can take to support a sense of safety in children. They can:
- Reach out, provide space and encourage students to connect with them or another trusted adult or counselor to talk about their safety concerns. Offer students a way to connect if there is something that they need help with or are worried about.
- Encourage students to talk to friends or family members on the phone.
- Help students plan some virtual playdates to distract them from their worries.
- Recommend or include in lesson plans and packets some fun, free activities that kids can do at home.
- Encourage families and caregivers to avoid watching the news in front of their children (as that can be upsetting), keep as much of a regular family routine as possible, and plan activities such as going for walks or hikes or playing board or video games together.
Connectedness refers to having relationships with others who can understand and support you. As we are practicing social distancing and have closed most public places, educators will need to get creative to help students feel connected.
To foster a sense of connectedness, educators can:
- Make time to ask students about something fun they are doing right now.
- Greet students by name and create a touch-free or virtual routine (similar to a handshake, a hug or a high five) to invite connection, either online or at meal pick-up.
- Consider putting students together in small groups to work on projects or activities and encouraging students to work together online or by phone. These activities may include virtual puzzles or scavenger hunts. The key is to help the student feel connected to others in the class by sharing an important part of themselves that helps the class get to know them better. Foster a sense of community by highlighting each student’s contribution to the group activity.
- Plan activities through the use of web-conferencing sites that allow students to see, hear and interact with each other and their teacher.
- Talk directly about the importance of connecting with others.
- Incorporate space for play and fun activities into online lesson plans or take-home packets.
Hope is the expectation that everything will work out and the feeling that things will be all right. Right now, many people may be feeling discouraged, hopeless or angry. Adults and students may be feeling a great sense of loss for activities that will not be taking place as usual. Students particularly may be disappointed in missing out on sports, competition, performances and other important rituals of the spring semester.
To encourage a sense of hope, educators can:
- Have students connect with someone in their family or community to ask a person they respect how they stayed hopeful in troubled times.
- Teach about other historical times of crisis, including how these ended and communities rebounded.
- Encourage students to get fresh air and to move when possible.
- Share some of the many stories of hope and helping that have come out of this current crisis.
- Share a positive affirmation or a strength of a student—it can go a long way right now.
- Let students know that people find help in different ways, including through spiritual beliefs and practices, and encourage students to discuss things that bring them hope.
- Facilitate and encourage students meeting virtually or by phone with a trusted adult who can show them a different perspective, help to identify their talents and strengths, list their options and resources, and encourage and support them.