Ginger Welch, PhD, author of How Can I Help? A Teacher's Guide to Early Childhood Behavioral Health, shares three strategies to cultivate healing in the new school year.
First, I just wanted to wish you good luck. I know you're in the midst of preparing to welcome children and families back in the fall, and that is no minor task. I thought I would share with you three tips out of my book, How Can I Help? A Teacher's Guide to Early Childhood Behavioral Health, that can help you get ready to start this new year off with our new norm.
1. Read up on mood disorders in children.
Flip to the chapter on mood disorders in children. It covers the ever popular topic of anxiety, which is something I think almost all of us can relate to, especially as we think about coming back together and all the changes that we've had over this last year. It can really help you recognize some signs of anxiety and understand when some mysterious behaviors are actually reflecting anxiety and that the child might be experiencing. We also have to pay attention to the anxiety that their families may be experiencing; and to our own because it is not just limited to children and families. It's something that is really pervasive — and we can understand that. I hope you'll flip to that chapter and maybe learn a little bit about anxiety and some of the things to expect from anxiety and anxiety-related behaviors as we come back together this fall.
2. Be mindful of trauma exposure and responses.
There's an entire chapter devoted to early childhood trauma in my book, How Can I Help?. Many of our kiddos have been safe at home over the last year, but some of them have not. They have suffered unspeakable losses, which may have been due to COVID, or may be due to other things they've had change. They've all had change. Their families may have experienced job loss. They may have been hurt. They may have witnessed violence. Many things have happened in their lives while they may have been out of touch with you, and you are that daily touch point that they need so much. They've grown so much over this last year and a half, and I think we want to be mindful that some of our children had beautiful lives over the last year, some children really suffered tremendous loss, some of their families suffered tremendous loss, and even some of our coworkers have, too. So it is incredibly important to be mindful of what trauma can look like and the different ways it can be expressed. That is something I would strongly encourage you to have a read over and maybe include in your PD as you get ready to go back to the classroom.
3. Be intentional about self-care.
Last but not least, please flip to the end of the book and plan out some self-care for yourselves, your coworkers, and your staff. I say all the time, we have to do self-care on purpose. It never happens on accident. We have to plan for it. We have to make time for it. We have to devote the resources to it. Let's get ahead of it! Every year we say, “We will do it right this year. We're going to take good care of ourselves.” This year we are really going to take good care of ourselves and we’re going to do it while we are taking good care of everybody else. So I hope that you will make a plan and find a fellow staff member, a fellow teacher, and make a commitment to try some of the activities in that chapter to help keep yourself mentally and physically healthy. You are that touch point for so many of these families and children and they need you. The demand for your love, attention, time, and education is going to be great this year, so please take good care of yourselves.
Wishing you all the best as we head back to school!