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.