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November 16, 2020 How Trauma Can Affect School

How Trauma Can Affect School

By Jacey Wanner, Parent Family Educator for Region 7

We are officially starting the third month of school. I believe we could have a variety of emotional responses to that statement.

Similarly, kids are handling the challenges of this school year in a variety of ways. My favorite question to ask people is: “How’s it going?” No, really, how’s the school year going? What have been the positives and what are the negatives?

The great thing about this question is that the answer is different for everybody. We do not have a right way to handle schooling –amid -a pandemic –hybrid-online-in-person-I-don’t-know-what-method-of-schooling-we-are-doing-anymore.”

Living through the COVID-19 pandemic is an ongoing form of trauma for everyone. The amount of change that everyone has to deal with daily, the uncertainty of the situation, and the fear of contracting the disease or having a family member contract the disease is certainly a traumatic experience.

While COVID has brought one type of trauma, many kids have been through or are going through additional traumatic experiences. Because research has linked trauma to increased problems with learning and behavior, caregivers have the opportunity to help kids navigate these difficulties surrounding school. Here are a few ways caregivers can help:

  • Talk to your children about what they need. In what areas of school are they struggling? Do they need a quieter space? Do they need more structure on the days they are learning from home? Do they need to take frequent breaks? Ask them what a good day at school learning and a good day at home learning looks like, and then ask them what a bad day would look like. Help them find ways to adjust their learning environment based on their answers.
  • Help the child find ways to manage big emotions. Children who have experienced trauma or are experiencing trauma in their life usually display stronger emotions when met with activities or circumstances that are hard. In school or doing online learning, children often can have a lot of frustration. With that frustration comes strong emotions. Big, strong, negative emotions make learning very difficult. Caregivers can help find ways for the kids to manage those emotions (Hint: Figuring out how to manage emotions is different for every child!). Some kids calm down better by taking deep breaths, some calm down by staring at three different items in their environment, some calm down by doing some stretches, and some calm down by repeating a calming phrase to themselves. Calming activities are best when they can be used anywhere and at any time frustration occurs (so taking a calming bath is not always an option during the school day).
  • Talk through the daily schedule. Children who have experienced trauma sometimes have difficulty dealing with unknown situations. COVID has produced numerous unknowns, which can cause increased stress and anxiety for everyone, but kids who have experienced trauma are especially at-risk for responses to these unknowns. Acknowledge that having so many unknowns regarding school is hard. Say something such as: “I know that not having a plan or knowing how school is going to go is really difficult. Let’s make a list of things that we can plan for each day.” For example, a meal, when people are going to get home, unplugged time, or special activity time. Anytime something structured can be written down, do it.
  •  Highlight the positives and improvements each child has worked on for school. Did the children do a better job focusing today than yesterday? Let them know. Did the children participate more in class or do a better job managing their emotions than last week? Find the things that the children are doing better and bring it to their attention. Children who have experienced trauma are wired to focus on the negatives. Fun fact: Every person’s brain is wired to remember negativity. Every one negative comment, takes five positive comments to replace it.

 

Check out www.childmind.org for a variety of information on topics about kids.

 

 

 

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