Look for the Helpers

Recently, the idea of trauma sensitivity in schools has been a subject of interest in the Mid-State region. It seems timely, amid the constant state of uncertainty in our nation and in our world, to stop and think about the impact of stress, anxiety, and traumatic experience upon our students. We often see this impact in our schools. When exposed to adverse experiences, children often react with maladaptive behaviors for lack of a better strategy, to cope with feelings such as anger, fear and worry. Although we are not all trained in trauma intervention, we can strive to maintain sensitivity to those around us concerning the potential impact of adverse experiences. We can also, as nurturing and responsive professionals, begin to build up our repertoire of responses to our youngest learners when they experience fear, anxiety and sadness.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am often influenced, and I would daresay inspired, by Fred Rogers and his genuine, sincere approach to talking with young children. I’ve long relied upon his judgment with my own family; especially when trying to find the words to explain something that evokes distress. When talking with young children having witnessed something scary or violent, Mr. Rogers said this;

“When I was a boy and would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helper. You will always find people who are helping.'” – Fred Rogers

The message here, while simple, is quite brilliant. What makes this coping strategy truly effective is in the action. Anxiety is often fueled by a sense of not knowing what action to take in a frightening situation. For example: children who are anxious about staying home alone for the first time may worry about things like “what if someone I am not expecting knocks on the door?” They often worry less when they have discussed a plan of action for situations like these that may arise (“do not answer the door, take the telephone to your bedroom and call Mrs. Smith next door if you feel scared”, etc.) We find that there is far less to worry about when we are confident that we know what to do when something daunting takes place. Having a plan helps children gain a sense of control over their environment: suggesting that they engage in an action such as “looking for the helpers” can provide an age-appropriate way to ease the fear and anxiety associated with inaction.

Looking to lessen your own anxiety and better prepare yourself for helping children cope with difficult experiences? This article provides a great start to increasing your repertoire of responses to help young children respond to fear and feel less anxiety. This one small action can help you begin to address students from a more trauma sensitive point of view.

Jackie Burrows-Beck

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