Learning In Uncertain Times

Amidst the COVID-19 outbreak, everyday life has changed and will continue to change for people throughout the world. Rhythms of life have been turned upside down, often with little advanced notice. In this season of uncertainty, children especially may struggle with significant adjustments to their routines. School and daycare closings, new social distancing norms, and home confinement interfere with their sense of structure, predictability, and security.

Young people — even infants and toddlers — are perceptive observers of people and environments.

Children notice and react to stress in their parents, caregivers, peers, and community. To help process these observations, children will frequently ask direct questions about the present and future. Their behavior often shifts in reaction to strong feelings of fear, worry, sadness, and anger that they see around them. A child in crisis may worry about their safety, and the safety of their loved ones: How will my basic needs be met? Am I safe? What will happen next?

While most children eventually return to typical functioning with consistent support from sensitive and responsive caregivers, others are at risk of developing significant mental health problems.

Potential threats include trauma-related stress, anxiety, and depression. Children with prior trauma or pre-existing mental, physical, or developmental problems are at especially high risk for emotional disturbances. These factors only increase for children whose parents struggle with mental health disorders, substance misuse, or economic instability.

What is childhood trauma?
Childhood trauma occurs when a child witnesses or experiences overwhelming negative experiences. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, childhood trauma is “The experience of an event or events by a child that is emotionally painful or distressful, which often results in lasting mental and physical effects.” These experiences can include factors like economic stress, domestic violence, accidents, crime, illness, the sudden loss of a caregiver — or a pandemic like COVID-19.
Trauma in childhood is an overwhelming experience. It can undermine a child’s social and emotional development, cognitive growth, and physical health. Trends such as poor attention, impaired impulse control, lower cognitive abilities, and increased referrals for special education services have all been linked to multiple occurrences of trauma in a child’s life. Beyond the classroom, trauma has been seen to effect a child’s ability to regulate emotions, aggression, and self-harm.
Health disparities in adults have also been linked to childhood trauma. Children exposed to trauma are more likely to experience chronic health conditions including autoimmune disorders, diabetes, heart disease, lung cancer, stroke, and skeletal fractures.
What is Trauma Informed Care?
The children at our Centers for Early Learning experience trauma in high numbers. Thus our teachers play a critical role in recognizing and responding to children exhibiting symptoms of trauma in the classroom. These interventions can alleviate the adverse impacts of a child’s trauma. The goal of our program is not only to ensure that all children are ready for kindergarten, but also to help children and families rise above adversity, flourish in their community, and find a place to call home.
Utilizing Trauma Informed Care, our Centers practice a holistic approach to early childhood education. They offer support systems and wrap-around services to the entire family.

Our 3-Rs: Staff REALIZE the widespread impact of trauma and understand potential paths of recovery; RECOGNIZE signs and symptoms of trauma in the children, families, and themselves; and RESPOND by fully integrating knowledge about trauma into their practices, seeking to actively resist re-traumatizing.

Our Center staff continually practice five guiding principles of safety, choice, collaboration, trustworthiness, and empowerment. The first, and most foundational step to providing Trauma Informed Care, is ensuring that the physical and emotional safety of the child is being addressed. This includes not only creating a safe classroom, but building strong relationships and connections with the child’s family. Our teachers educate and assist children in making positive choices to regulate their behaviors, emotions, and attention. They allow children to collaborate on projects, empowering them to make choices and experiment as they learn. Students are encouraged to use positive language, empowering the child to focus attention on strengths rather than weaknesses. This builds a sense of self-worth, and ultimately self-confidence.

Once a child feels safe and has the tools to socially-emotionally regulate themselves, the academics will follow.

Creating stability for children builds lifelong success
Continually practicing Trauma Informed Care creates a sense of safety and stability for children, families, and educators. Early Learning programs that utilize a Trauma Informed approach see a decrease in absences, suspensions, drop-out rates, behavioral challenges, and an overall reduction of stress levels among the entire educational community. They also see an increase of staff and family satisfaction, academic achievement, and success. In a time where the world is facing unprecedented stress, Trauma Informed Care is the tool we use to help our families — and ourselves — move forward in strength.

That’s why Learning Empowered exists
Learning Empowered is a Tampa Bay nonprofit that exists to alleviate the symptoms and address the causes of poverty with evidence-based, innovative education. We see lives and communities transformed as students build their own futures through Early Learning, Citizenship, Housing Stability, and Financial Literacy programs. Every person has dreams and goals. We’re here to help people achieve them.

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