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MOVING BEYOND STRESS & SURVIVAL

The COVID-19 virus has left all of us feeling varying degrees of stress, loss and anxiety.  Uncertainty about the future can leave us struggling to put on a brave face, and in school, children will respond to our feelings in addition to their own.   Self-care is imperative if we are to help children to manage their feelings. 

 

A psychiatrist named Dr Bruce Perry devised a framework called the ‘Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics’.  This helps us to understand how to safe, regulated adults, working with the brain, can help children who have experienced trauma and loss.  Perry's research tells us that children’s brains organise from bottom to top with the lower parts of the brain (brainstem or ‘survival brain’) developing earliest, and the cortical areas (thinking brain) much later.  Children returning to school may have become stuck in the brainstem part of their brain, and are likely to swing between their survival behaviours - flight/fight/freeze/collapse.   Your goal should be to keep them regulated enough to stay within a calm, imaginary zone which we call their 'window of tolerance'.  Watch this animation to find out more .

 

Children's first source of safety comes from adults who feel safe and regulated; it's only then that they begin to feel safe enough to explore their world.    Being relational is essential, but can feel impossible when  social distancing means we can’t rely on hugs to provide comfort and connection;  this can be a major cause of stress and disconnection. 

 

Here are some other ways to move children from super-stressed anxiety states to their calmer ‘thinking brain’ using repetitive rhythmic activity.  Our goal should be to turn the space created by ‘social distance' into space where children can move out of survival mode by stretching, dancing and having fun.  We use a series of goals, beginning with 'R' to remind us what we're aiming for in all of the brain-stem calming activities.     

 

Don't forget, these activities are  great ways to encourage parents to continue the good work at home.  Remember, children need a little bit, every day so they become part of a routine. 

Regular brainstem calming activities can, over time, help a child’s brain and body to learn that they are safe again in school

Respecting the needs of children, families and school

Rewarding - make it fun, fun, fun!

Relevant activities need to match the development level of the child, rather than their actual age.  Lots of children will have regressed and behave in ways that are much younger

Rhythmic activities are great ways to engage and resonate with the braIn's neural patterns

Repetitive, over and over

a little every day

 
Image by Prateek Gautam

RESPECT & REMEMBER

  • Respectful ways to remember and reflect the things, places, people and events that have marked the time since school closure. 

  • Think about ways that allow children share information with friends who are not in their 'social bubble'.

  • Opportunity to share information and successes, devise new milestones and ways to find meaning and celebrate together

BOUNDARIES, RITUALS & ROUTINES

  • Reminding children that some things have not changed.  Don't go overboard with the rules, we still need flexibility to respond to needs, but children also need to have physical and emotional boundaries in order to feel safe. 

  • Consistency is crucial - all members of staff need to uphold the values, ethos and rules that make school feel predictable and secure.

  • Create your own meaningful rituals - maybe a new ways to greet every child in the morning.

  • Share information safely across the school with one consistent message and be as honest as possible if there is something beyond your control, or no immediate answer.   This is especially important to help children manage transitions.

Image by Kelly Sikkema

CHECKING EMOTIONAL HEALTH

  • Everyone in school has a named person they trust and can talk to, don't forget the quiet ones

  • Screenings, worry boxes, email in-box, drop-in's for staff, briefings, check-ins, circle (bubble)-time.  If you're struggling we want to know.

  • Don't fprget virtual check-ins for children who have not returned to school

Worried about an individual child needing more support? 

Click here to complete a referral form and let us know your concern

OPPORTUNITIES FOR HEALING

Building relationships with traumatised children requires repeated, consistent, repetitive responses.  Simple acts of kindness can make a huge difference, along with our language.  Everyone has a role to play and needs to be on the same page.  In your daily briefings, make sure that everyone has a shared language of kindness, and a goal to listen with empathy, so that every chance to connect becomes a positive, therapeutic experience for children. 

You'll also find some great ways to talk about feelings in the COVID-19 Wellbeing Activity Book - written and designed by Priscilla Bacon

Download your quick guide to words that hurt and the clues that will help you look beyond behaviour and recognise the survival modes that children rely on to cope with trauma. 

WATCH OUT FOR BURNOUT

Responding to trauma every day can soon become physically and mentally exhausting, especially when children do not respond in positive ways to our best efforts.  It's important to spot the signs of burnout and know what to do when children find powerful ways to communicate deep distress and anxiety.  Download your guide to projective identification, how to spot it and avoid it.

Worried about vulnerable children who aren't in school?  Click here to sign up for our 12-part blog and book 1:1 support for parents

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STRATEGIES AND RESOURCES FOR YOUR CLASSROOM

So you've identifed the survival behaviour, you're using emapthic listening with kind language, and you're mindful of your own responses.  Now's the time for some ready-made resources to help you plan trauma-informed activies to support children to build positive attachments.  Images and information courtesy of Beacon House Therapeutic Services & Trauma Team | 2019 | www.beaconhouse.org.uk

Have you seen me?  Attachment and trauma in the classroom

Supporting transitions

Trauma informed schools resources pack

SINGING & DANCING

Singing is great for regulating breathing. 

Dig out those well-known songs for a whole school singalong, and give children a sense of belonging and togetherness. 

 

Use up the extra space and every opportunity to wiggle and  jiggle or learn a new dance routine.  Why not get them to  create one themselves!  They could use it as a positive, unique way to enter the classroom and start the day.   Take some inspiration from community-led dances  around the globe; try out a class-wide Huka dance to share how they're feeling.

Get an adult singing along with individual children who need more support, or get out the headphones and let children listen to their favourite music in a private space

 

Have a CD on in the background with calming tones (similar to ‘lullaby’ tones for young children).

 

Use a background CD with short bursts of rhythmic tunes throughout the day

Encourage children to write their own rap song and create the words and music

DRUMMING & TAPPING

Get those drums out (or maybe make your own) and play along together.    Drumming as a community is a great way to involve everyone to create a shared rhythm, as well as add their own signature beat. 

 

Encourage children to listen to their own internal 'rhythm' that resonates with their feelings.  

Encourage children to tap their feet or tap a beat on their knees and other parts of their  body. 

Get children to tap opposite sides of their body while they think of positive things or encourage them to tap while they do something fun.

STRETCHING

Make use of the extra space to stretch, bend and flex their limbs and encourage whole-body expression. 

 

Mindfulness activities can help children to feel more safe as they learn to release the feelings that have become stored in their bodies. 

Why not use chairs, tables and  floor-space to create a calming ‘yoga’ ritual.

Above all, help children to see that social distance gives them space for everyone to be themselves and find creative ways to be together.