Submitted by Dr. Lynne Hartman – Expert in Administration of Schools
When kids go back to school
The kids are coming back to school and it does not matter what the politicians are discussing. What we need to be discussing is how to deal with traumatized children. All children have experienced some form of trauma. Trauma is described from the Merriam-Webster dictionary as an emotional upset, a disordered psyche or behavioral state resulting from severe mental or emotional stress or physical injury. Trauma can be acute, chronic and/or complex. I believe that all children experienced trauma dealing with COVID-19 and as educators we need to be prepared to deal with it.
Many children were home for almost a year and each one experienced it differently. Educators need to be prepared to deal with the children’s behaviors that will be displayed in many different ways. We do not know what the child experienced at home for over a year and how it affected them and their development, but we need to be ready to help the children understand what they are feeling. So, we need to be prepared to help them through their feelings. The first we need to do is to listen to the child and observe how they are displaying their feelings and fears. Many children were traumatized for a variety of reasons. The children need to feel safe. They need to know that they are safe in the learning environment.
The thing we need to do to support the children when they come back is to think about it as the first day of school on steroids. The schools need to have additional social workers, school councils, school psychologists, and other mental health workers to assist the teachers and students through this unprecedented time. The adults need to show the children that they care and are listening to their needs. The teachers need to understand signs of trauma.
Each child presents stress and upset differently.
Here are some of the common signs of trauma, that you need to be looking for by the students, sleeping in class, eating problems, complaining about pain, or not feeling well, anxiety, aggressive behavior, avoidance, irritable, helplessness, regression, sexualized behaviors, impulsive, inattention, daydreaming, sadness, depression, and poor relationships. Educators need to be aware how children display different behaviors and to talk with the child to understand their feelings and behavior. If you as a teacher do not feel equipped to deal with the situation, please get a mental health professional in the classroom immediately to help the child. We need to be more aware of the child’s emotional needs before the academic needs because if their emotional needs are not met, they will have more issues that transform differently and could be more exaggerated and heighten.
One suggestion is for all classes from PreK to High school the teacher spends 5 -7 minutes every class period or at least the first-class period just checking in with the children to see how they are and what they did last night. It is really a mental health check. But be mindful many high school students that are having a hard time do come to school late and with late students I would have a mental health professional check in with them before they go to class. As educator we may not know all the behaviors that will be displayed because we have never had to deal with a pandemic.