Returning to School During the Covid-19 Pandemic: A Trauma Informed Approach
COVID-19 as a Trauma/Stress Event
This event has been experienced on a spectrum of “it doesn’t seem like it will impact us” to feeling overwhelmed, frozen or irritated, and not knowing what may happen next.
- Previous Trauma (i.e. abuse, neglect, violence) can be exacerbated
- Typical Stressors (i.e. falling behind in school, financial stress/food, regular schoolwork/tests, home stress) can all get worse during the pandemic
- New Stressors (i.e. wearing a mask, washing hands, worrying about getting sick) surface
How We Might be Feeling Now
We may find ourselves feeling more agitated, easily annoyed or frustrated. Being in lockdown and having a worldwide presence of Covid-19 has left us feeling threatened. We can’t flee the danger so we may be revving up to fight or flat and begin to shut down.
Now things are changing again as we go back to school. Possible feelings for children, teachers and parents about returning to school:
- Anxious or nervous
- Afraid of the unknown
- Reluctant to return
- Poor sleep
- Physically not feeing well (tummy or headaches)
- Poor concentration and distractibility
- Mood swings
How Can Schools in 2020 Be Trauma Sensitive?
- There are many things educator, staff, parents and counselors can do to support children who have experienced trauma and help them to cope better at school.
- Social connectedness – the biggest buffer in times of stress and distress. We can stay physically distant but emotionally close
- Self-care – helping children learn to do this through modeling and education
- A safe, predictable, supportive and consistent environment – create this in your environment. You can be the most important contribution for the child’s ability to learn to trust the world again, and enhance their capacity for resiliency
- Checking in with students when they arrive in your classroom
- Not expecting “calm” as this would be unrealistic of the children and ourselves. Be realistic about what will be achieved as many of us are in survival mode.
- Be the thermostat, not the thermometer, for your classroom. Set the tone for your class and not let the class set your tone.
We Need to Put Our Own Oxygen Masks On First
Think of what the flight attendants say on a plane. They remind adult to put their own oxygen masks on before helping children or others around them.
Self-care needs to be a priority. We are no use to those around us if we are “unconscious”
What might self-care look like?
- Doing an activity you like
- Taking care of your physical and mental health
- Try and find ways to incorporate the whole brain throughout the day (rational thinking, emotions, and decision making)
- Help regulate yourself and your students by encouraging reading, playing boardgames or learning opportunities
- Help regulate yourself and your students by creating something or connecting with someone special in your life
- Help regulate yourself and your students by moving your body around and doing exercise, body breaks or stretching
Ways to Minimize Covid-19’s Imprint in Our Lives
- Predictability – try to have a routine and things to look forward to
- Get Moving – feeling trapped increases our fight response
- Connection – isolation is unnatural for humans. Reach out to friends, family or counselors
- Numbing Out – often we try to numb out to keep safe, but we need to feel safe for our bodies to heal. Try becoming aware of yourself with loving kindness and compassion
- Sense of Future – it can feel like this is will last forever. Try breathing or mindfulness to help get a sense of time
- Sense of Safety – find ways to feel safe again. Listen to music, have private time and reach out if you are unsafe at home
Use of Zones of Regulation
The Zones of Regulation is a framework designed to foster self-regulation and emotional control (Kuypers). It is an effective way of identifying how we are feeling and functioning. It can also be used as a way to check-in with children and ourselves. We need to be in our green zone to in order to learn effectively. It is helpful to identify what we can do to support ourselves depending which zones we find ourselves in.
What are the Zones of Regulation?
Blue Zone (rest area)
- Sad, sick, tired, board, moving slowly
- To support myself: talk to your friends and maybe they can cheer you up
Green Zone (go)
- Happy, calm, feeling okay, focused, ready to learn
- To support myself: keep having a positive mindset
Yellow Zone (slow)
- Frustrated, worried, silly/wiggly, excited, loss of some control
- To support myself: try not to worry and go talk to someone to get it off your chest
Red Zone (stop)
- Mad/angry, mean, terrified, hitting/yelling, out of control
- To support myself: walk around or get a drink
For more resources on recognizing and preventing child abuse, neglect and mental health symptoms in a virtual classroom, click here.
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Content Developed by:
- Christine Clark, MAMFT, LPC, NCC
- Anna Fortune, LPC, CPCS
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