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 .