By Nancy Osborn, Ph.D., Psychologist/Trainer
Early childhood education centers are among the hardest hit services during this current pandemic. Some have closed temporarily, and some have closed permanently. All of the centers have had to make major changes in their operations as they follow recommended guidelines for child care programs.
There have also been major decreases in the number of children coming into the centers, either because of parents’ understandable concerns about COVID 19, or countless other stressors that they are facing such as unemployment, housing instability, etc.
What makes these challenges particularly heartbreaking is that early childhood educators are still caring for our children, whether the children are there or not — they have compassion toward the children they care for and they, as many of us, are concerned about the children’s safety and their emotional and social development during this time. Early childhood educators remain engaged with the children and families.
Educating caregivers about trauma
KC Healthy Kids has received several grants, including one from Health Forward Foundation, to educate early childhood teachers and staff about trauma-informed care. Trauma-informed care is a perspective that educates people about how widespread trauma is, how trauma impacts people, and how to sensitively and safely approach others.
KC Healthy Kids’ trauma-informed care training began in February 2020, and it couldn’t have come at a more relevant time. It is important for early childhood educators to recognize that children and families have been significantly impacted by COVID-19 and to use trauma-sensitive principles to support children and their parents.
Through our training, we demonstrate that challenging behavior may be a sign that a child has experienced trauma. They have been impacted by what has happened to them and have developed behaviors that help them cope or get their needs met. This can result in behaviors that are challenging to comprehend and, for early childhood educators in particular, to manage. If educators embody trauma-sensitive principles, they can show a child that the world is actually safer than he or she may believe.
Trauma-sensitive principles emphasize the importance of safety, trust through transparency, voice and choice, collaboration and empowerment. When people approach others with these principles in mind, it can lead to the development of healthy relationships. Developing healthy relationships is crucial in early childhood education (and any other kind of setting) and can lead to healing.
Another important facet of our trauma-informed care education is teaching self-care to caregivers. There is no doubt that early childhood educators are impacted by the trauma the children have experienced in their lives so it is particularly important that these teachers understand the impact of trauma, learn trauma-sensitive principles, and to take good care of themselves.
It is also important for early childhood staff to recognize that they are impacted by all of the stressors that they may have experienced in their past as well as what they and their own families are experiencing now. Managing these stressors, recognizing when they are overwhelmed, and practicing good self-care will most likely help them make better decisions; keep their thoughts, behaviors, and emotions better regulated; and ultimately help them in their work, home, and personal lives.
Education for families
Families that may have already experienced trauma are additionally burdened by the upheaval caused by the pandemic. Even families without a history of trauma are currently stressed by the new roles they have had to take on, in addition to following guidelines recommended by the CDC and the scientific community. This stress can certainly impact mental health, which can result in atypical behaviors for children and adults.
Fortunately, through the grants KC Healthy Kids has received, parents will also have the opportunity to receive trauma-informed training and education.
Early childhood educators interested in this training can contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. If parents have specific concerns about their child, they can contact their local community mental health center. See our list of Mental Health Resources
This post was originally published on Health Forward Foundation's blog in 2020 as part of a series.
By Nancy Osborn, Ph.D., Psychologist/Trainer
The pandemic has brought greater focus on the inequities that exist in our communities.
It appears that the inequities are only getting worse. Many have lost their jobs and are facing mounting bills and crucial concerns about housing, food, and basic necessities.
The more fortunate and privileged are now working from home but may still be stressed about maintaining their jobs and navigating a new structure and responsibilities in their home with remote learning.
With all these stressors, it is no wonder that news sources are reporting increasing mental health issues.
The good news is that we can all stay centered and calmer if we first recognize that we are profoundly impacted by these life changes and then regularly participate in activities to care for ourselves.
One of the recommendations is for people to focus on their own self-care to help ease the daily stressors almost all of us are experiencing. Another recommendation could be made that we need to also focus on community self-care.
Most of us have likely heard that “we are all in this together,” which is moving in the direction of community self-care, but it is important for all of us to think about how we might intentionally take care of our communities.
Many people may not quite understand why self-care is so important, especially because it may seem selfish. There also may be some misunderstanding of what is meant by self-care since some people think of self-care as small luxuries we “treat” ourselves to like a manicure/pedicure.
The true meaning of self-care
Someone said “true self-care is making a life that you don’t need to regulate or escape from.”
Self-care in this context includes remembering to eat as healthy as possible, getting enough sleep, getting moderate exercise, going to the doctor when necessary, and making time for some downtime if at all possible.
We also obviously need to make time for breathing and spiritual practices and time to connect with others safely. It is the same principle espoused by flight attendants who tell passengers that they need to first put the oxygen mask on themselves and then attend to others. We have to focus on ourselves first to be able to take care of our responsibilities.
Currently, and actually always, it is also important for us to think about community self-care. Let’s face it, we need each other.
Our lives are fuller because we have each other so it is important that we take care of each other. So what are some ways we can do this?
Right now one of the relatively small ways we can do this is to wear a mask, to keep physically distanced from others, wash our hands frequently, etc. as recommended by the CDC. This is a great example of individual and community self-care because it keeps us and others safe.
Another way community self-care can be practiced is to challenge the inequities that have and are occurring. The easiest place to start is to listen to personal stories and learn from them. We can do what we can to ensure people have fresh food, or donate money or goods to nonprofits and agencies that serve our communities. We can also take an active interest in the governance of our communities by reading relevant news articles, watching live streams of city council meetings and education board meetings, and contacting our representatives.
It is crucial for us to think of how we can assist others in this challenging time. It is truly good self-care for us as individuals as well as for our communities to think about what each of us can do to help others.
This post was originally published on Health Forward Foundation's blog as part of a series.
By Nancy Osbrn, Ph.D., Psychologist/Trainer
The COVID-19 crisis has brought concerns for mental health issues to the forefront for almost everyone. However, one group that is often overlooked is the very young.
Often it is difficult for parents, child care providers, and other caregivers to realize that even preschoolers can meet the diagnostic criteria for certain mental health disorders. For many adults, it is hard to believe that children under the age of five can develop cases of clinical depression and clinical anxiety that require professional help.
So, how do you know if a young child needs help?
It may be confusing to spot the difference between a normal response to the sudden changes we are all experiencing, and the more dramatic symptoms connected to a clinical illness. As a result of COVID-19, almost everyone is feeling more vulnerable, worried, and afraid.
In the context of COVID-19, it is normal for preschoolers to exhibit anxiety or even depressed behavior because of the multitude of sudden changes to their routine and their environment. Right now, their parents may also exhibit a variety of emotions and they may express more frustration than normal from changes at work and home. Parental changes naturally impact a young child’s emotional status.
How can parents determine the difference between normal emotional reactions and a possible mental health disorder when nothing seems normal and everything seems changed?
As with all clinical disorders, a professional diagnosis involves identifying a certain number of symptoms that are exhibited, understanding a certain length of time that the symptoms have persisted, and evaluating the degree in which an individual’s day-to-day functioning is impacted.
During the pandemic, emotions run high and some people describe feeling like they are caught on a roller coaster of up-and-down emotions. The ability to function as usual is being impacted across age groups, but a definite external stressor is causing the situation. For most of us, feeling anxious, afraid, angry, frustrated, and many other emotions is a normal response that is easily explained. As long as individuals are generally able to function most of the time under these stressors, they would not meet the criteria for a mental health diagnosis.
The same is true for preschoolers. Tantrums, withdrawal, and behavioral regression are an expected response to changes in environment, schedules, and routines. However, if your little one shows consistent tendencies to be anxious or depressed, you need to pay close attention.
Some symptoms associated with childhood anxiety and depression include (but are not limited to) the following:
If your child showed these tendencies prior to the pandemic and now you are observing even more significant concerning behaviors, it would be wise to get an evaluation. Early interventions can assist in improving developmental outcomes which leads to a better future for your child.
In addition to the child’s health, pay attention to the health of your child’s caretaker — especially if that primary caretaker is you. Infants and young children are especially vulnerable because they have to rely on others to take care of them. Caretakers help influence how children respond to situations that occur in their lives. Children will show more resilience if their caretakers help them feel safe and pay attention to fulfilling the needs of their emotional and social development.
What can caretakers do to help kids?
If any adult or child is so overwhelmed that their functioning has significantly decreased, an evaluation by a medical or mental health professional is recommended. More resources are available through telehealth than ever before.
This article was originally published on Health Forward Foundation's blog.
Why should I teach my child mindfulness? If you’re a parent who currently practices mindfulness, you already know the answer to this question. If you’re new to the practice, it might surprise you to learn there are many positive aspects of mindfulness.
It’s normal to be anxious in these uncertain times, but too much anxiety can be hard on our bodies and minds. Dr Nancy Osborn, our in-house psychologist, has pulled together this list of techniques that can help you feel better. Everyone’s different, so find the ones that work for you.
At our youth summit in March, a high school poetry slam team asked kids in the audience what community means to them. Their answers show they value and need strong support from their communities. And their words--we’re too afraid…breathe in and out…keep your ears wide open…we all want somewhere to fit in…remember to be grateful…fighting to build a kinder world—which were put together in a moving spoken word piece, tell us they are looking to find inner peace in a chaotic world.