I recently read an article about the surgeon general of California. She is advocating for all children entering elementary school to be assessed for signs of trauma. In her time as a physician Dr. Nadine Burke Harris has seen countless children with a variety of illnesses. While it could be easy enough to write a prescription then send the children and their families off without any in depth thought as to the cause of the illnesses, she did more.
Dr. Harris took the time to figure what emotional toll the children she is seeing may be enduring. As a result of her research, Dr. Harris discovered that many of the illnesses she was seeing in the children coming to her clinic were suffering from conditions brought by trauma. These children couldn’t simply be fixed with a shot or pill. There was much more needed to help these children get to point where they could be considered well.
It makes no difference what age a child is when they encounter a situation that involves a high level of stress. The results are the same in all cases. Children lack the ability to adequately develop fundamental social-emotional skills. When a child isn’t sure where they are going to sleep from one night to the next or when they will see one of their parents next, it’s hard to focus on what is being pushed down on them by those not taking the children’s needs in to account.
When children in these situations lack adults who are responsive their needs, stress level climbs to overwhelming level that are likely to remain that way long-term. As a result, the likelihood of developmental delays, learning problems, and behavioral problems these children is much greater. All of this leads to a slew of various behavioral challenges that early childhood staff may observe.
Now what? First, take the time to really get know the children in your care. The better you know the children, the easier it will be notice atypical behavior vs typical behavior. Second, look beyond the behavior of the child for what may be the real source of their actions. Once enough information has been gathered, it will be time to process what you have observed. You may find that the next step involves reaching out to experts with the expertise on how to work with children who have endured trauma.
As educators, our role is only part of what molds a child’s development. The children’s families bring the other half necessary to balancing their development. I feel that the value of the relationship with the families tends to be undervalued until a situation where a serious conversation needs to be had occurs. That is why I stress the importance of building a relationship with a child’s family. The stronger your connection to the children’s families the more cooperative the families will likely be when pursuing additional resources necessary to meet a child’s needs.
We must remember that children are just as vulnerable to stress and its affects as the adults around them. Children will not simply “brush it off” and move with their lives. Pain is still pain no matter if one is ignorant of what pain is or what is causing the pain. What may appear to be a sick child or a child with behaviors beyond your control may instead be a child who is succumbing to overwhelming stress .
Emotions are a tricky concept to understand, manage and work through. Learning how to take what we feel and process those feelings in an emotionally healthy way takes time and practice. The take away here are the concepts of TIME and PRACTICE. Time and practice are what differentiates self-control and self-regulation. What often complicates is that many times self-control and self-regulation are often confused with one another.
Self-control focuses on the ability to control oneself, specifically heightened emotions and desires when it would be so easy to act on especially in difficult situation. While it is important for a child to learn to keep feelings such as anger controlled; the results is only half of what needs to be done is accomplished. The alternative is for these emotions to be simply tucked away in the back of a child’s mind until a point when the child in question erupts like a volcano.
Unfortunately, it is often the case that emotions are dealt with they are simply buried away with the hope of never having to be dealt with directly. This is doesn’t lead to an emotionally intelligent adult...ever! That is self-regulation skills are so important.
In the end, a child who is feeling that sense of anger needs to learn to find a way to calm themselves down on their own. In this senario, a child has learned to get a handle on their emotions and can hopefully resist doing something like punch one of their classmates. The child no longer needs the adults around them telling them how to behave. Self-regulation skills have been learned instead of expecting the child to control their emotions.
Let’s imagine for a moment that you are on a trip. Some friends, a family etc. are going away for a weekend, a week, two weeks. They can get to where you are going by car. There is not need to fly. So the days comes for everyone to get into their cars and head to where they are going to spend your vacation.
The group is almost at the destination when they realize that the bridge leading to their set destination isn’t complete. How are they going to get to vacation spot destination if they can’t across to the other side?
Sadly, the group is now separated from where they want to be. How could this of happened. It is eventually discovered that those involved in building that bridge have not come together to do so. This unfortunately prevents the from reaching their destination.
Now take this story and make a child the subject of the story. In this scenario; the individuals who didn’t complete the bridge are the child’s teachers and parents. The results of which can be much more serious than someone not reaching their vacation destination.
Family engagement/partnership is more than getting families to show up at their child’s school. It’s about getting families to want to open up and have interest in getting to know their child’s teachers. When this happens, the possibilities for a child’s success become endless.
For many people, craft stores are a means to support their creative nature and hobbies. When someone is creating a craft, there is often a set image that the person working on the craft has in mind. In an instance such as this, having a specific finished “product” in mind makes sense. There is a specific goal one is hoping to achieve. Where this scenario doesn’t make sense is when children are engaged in play. Both scenarios involve a person engaged in something that they find enjoyable. What’s different is that children don’t engage in play with a specific goal in mind.
Here is another way to look at this concept. How often have you or someone you know tried to create something seen on television,YouTube, etc. How about trying to cook something with the hopes that what is being made will look like it’s seen on the cooking show, YouTube video or website? How do you feel when it doesn’t come out the way you expected? Now change your expectations. Instead of trying to recreate things to resemble an exact replica, you were flexible with your expectations.
When children are pushed to simply copy whatever a teacher created for a lesson, the level of higher-order thinking and creativity is non-existent. In place of open-ended engagement, we get children who become automated shells whose lose their potential over time. By engaging in “product-based”, the next generation of innovators are in danger of becoming extinct. It’s time for many educators to come out of their comfort zone and encourage a more process-based, thought-provoking learning environment.