Navigating Traumatic Moments: Tips and Resources from a School Psychologist
Teachers and parents often find themselves navigating situations and conversations they never dreamed of when they first set up their classrooms and nurseries. Reflecting on the traumatic moments and heartbreaking tragedies we are witnessing more and more over the last few years, it’s important to be proactive about supporting each other and the children in our care.
For advice about navigating trauma (which can come in many forms) we turned to Dr. Rosemarie Foote, a district school psychologist in the Upper Merion Area School District in Pennsylvania and a mental health advisor to BrainPOP. Dr. Foote has worked in schools supporting educators, parents, and students for over 23 years, but she says handling tragedy since the start of COVID has become a bigger challenge due to a dramatic shift she has seen among children.
Dr. Foote has experienced an increase in referrals, for both academic and emotional needs, including a rise in anxiety and depression. She explains that a traumatic event today versus 10 years ago is often felt more intensely, especially in younger children. “Kids are already compromised emotionally because of the social skills that they’re lacking, the lack of exposure, so they’re behind emotionally by a year or so,” says Dr. Foote. “Then you put on top of that something traumatic.”
In response, she focuses on trauma-informed therapy and building resiliency in her students. Here are five suggestions from Dr. Foote to help teachers, parents, and other caregivers support children through challenging times, along with a list of recommended resources from BrainPOP and beyond.
1. Dispel rumors and focus on the facts
The first and most important thing to remember after a tragedy occurs is to be honest with children, whether you’re a counselor, psychologist, teacher, or parent. Make yourself available, and answer their questions with the appropriate amount of detail depending on their age.
2. Keep the lines of communication open
Whether a child is quiet or talkative, it’s important to check in to make sure that they’re expressing everything they need to express. Ask open-ended questions, and leave the door open for them to come to you when something is bothering them. Remember that a conflict with a friend or disappointments at school are mini-traumas that children may need help navigating.
3. Prioritize self-care, and reach out to other adults
We all know that airplane analogy: Grown-ups should put on their oxygen mask first in the event of an emergency, and then turn to help kids. Adults often tend to push ourselves to the limit, and put our needs aside to focus on our children. To truly be resilient and present for our kids, it’s important to engage in consistent self-care, including routine exercise like brisk walks or yoga, as well as deep breathing, journaling, and other mindfulness techniques. Reach out to other adults in your circle to see how you can support one another.
4. Create structure with teachable moments
Building a predictable structure and routine is more important than ever at school and at home. Being explicit with your instruction and expectations helps children feel safe. Balance that with making the most of teachable moments about social problem solving, like how to speak up for yourself or others, which is a necessary skill to prevent and navigate daily trauma.
5. Equip children with resiliency tools
Explicitly teaching children how to cope with unexpected and overwhelming events in the world around them, and the feelings they experience as a result, is crucially important. Dr. Foote recommends the following BrainPOP and BrainPOP Jr. movies, along with standards-aligned learning activities, to teach more serious topics in developmentally appropriate ways:
Dr. Foote turns to these professional organizations for helpful resources to support teachers and parents:
Julia Bailey is a senior copywriter on the BrainPOP Marketing Team and a former classroom educator.