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Better Hearing and Speech Month: Speaking and Listening Skills for All Ages

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May is Better Hearing and Speech Month, which involves raising awareness about communication disorders. According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, communication disorders involve “an impairment in the ability to receive, send, process, and comprehend concepts of verbal, nonverbal and graphic symbol systems.” There are many different types and variations of communication disorders—and the range in severity is even more vast.

While it is likely that educators will encounter a number of students with communication disorders, it is also possible that these impairments can be misdiagnosed or go undetected altogether. Whatever the case may be, impairment or not, every student can benefit from activities and lessons that engage the class in speaking and listening. These important skills extend far beyond classroom objectives.

Skills used to present a clear and concise speech, or to comprehend written and verbal instructions, are certainly important in grade school. But speaking and listening skills are imperative to college and career-readiness. Imagine how frequently our adult lives require us to speak clearly, succinctly, or elaborately. Similarly, we inevitably spend much of our lives listening—ingesting important information, filtering out the unnecessary fluff, and responding appropriately. With such significance placed upon our abilities to communicate properly, it is necessary to begin speaking and listening skills early in the classroom.

Below are some age-appropriate activities to build students’ speaking and listening proficiency.

Preschool-friendly listening activities:

  • Use a basic tongue twister to play “telephone” as a whole class. Begin with a shorter phrase so that students can remember the whole thing. Whisper the phrase to the first person slowly and clearly, then continue the telephone around the circle until everyone has whispered it to a partner. At the end of the line, ask the final student to say the phrase. If the phrase is different from the original starting statement, discuss how it is just as important to listen during group activities. Explain how even a short statement can become confusing or jumbled if we aren’t listening closely to the speaker.
  • The traditional brain breaks can also work as fabulous listening practice. Simon Says, Red Light Green Light, and Musical Chairs are perfect for little ones that like to move around in the classroom. The movement also acts as a bit of a distraction to ensure that they really are listening while they’re up and about.
  • When reading to the class, ask students to act out the emotions that the characters are experiencing. If you are telling a spooky trick-or-treat story or an exciting adventure tale, pause at certain moments in the story to allow students to mimic the character’s behaviors or actions.

Early Elementary-aged speaking and listening activities:

  • Have students work on a Show-and-Tell project. Each student will informally present his or her object to the class or in small groups. Depending on age and ability, have students prepare a few notecards about the significance of the object. As other students are presenting, have the audience write down what each person brought for show-and-tell. Perhaps require students to ask 1-2 questions during the span of presentations. You could also create a graphic organizer asking students to categorize the items that their classmates brought in. This way, students are both asked to share aloud and listen attentively to each other.
  •  After story time or when finishing a class text, ask students to describe their favorite part in the story. Be sure to prompt them with follow-up questions such as: Why do you think that character did that? Are you happy with the way the story ended? Why or why not? How would you have reacted during the conflict in the story?
  • Create a clap-snap rhythm and ask students to replicate the sound pattern. Complicate the pattern as you go—making sure that students are both watching and listening to how the pattern is made. Remind students that listening attentively also means giving eye-contact to the speaker or “clapper.”

Late Elementary-aged speaking and listening activities:

  • Plan to watch a series of commercials as the class warm-up. Once all of the commercials have played, ask students to write down the products that were mentioned in each commercial. Were your students able to identify what the commercial was attempting to sell? Prompt a discussion about what makes a commercial successful or persuasive.  
  • Have students work in small groups to make up a creative story on the fly. One student will begin the story, then he or she passes it along to a classmate who will continue the narrative. Students must listen carefully to be sure that the story makes logical sense as it progresses around the circle.
  • Organize a game of charades in which students must act out a literary character from class texts. Students must walk, talk, and behave like their characters so that observers are able to speculate about who is playing which character. Discuss the importance of direct and indirect characterization and how authors wish to portray their characters.

Listen up! It’s time to let the fun begin for all ages and abilities.

Homework: Transparency is Key

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The many benefits of assigning homework are readily evident to all of us educators. Students are able to practice the skills learned in class on their own; teachers are better able to identify areas of confusion; and parents are able to see the concepts that are being taught in the classroom. Overall, homework is a necessary aspect of education.

The benefits of homework are not always transparent for students, however. Much of the time, the homework announcement is met with groans and eye-rolls. In those moments, there are a few things that I’d like my students to know:

  • The homework that I assign is meant to give you additional practice on the skills that we discussed today. It is not intended to torture you, occupy your evening, or cause you frustration. If this is ever the case, please tell me—because that is certainly not the point of my homework assignments.
  • I do not expect, nor do I necessarily want, your parents to coax you through your homework. If this is happening, it means that I did not adequately prepare you to tackle the assignment. I’d rather you attempt what you can and explain your confusion the following day. It is certainly not your parent’s job to complete your homework—and again, this tells me nothing about what you’ve learned.
  • Homework is also intended to provide students with a grade cushion. While we are certainly not chasing the grade, many of you consider the final grade to be very important. That said, homework provides you the opportunity to pad your grade simply by putting forth effort. This is your chance to show me that you are trying to learn the content.   
  • I do not expect you to achieve 100% correctness on homework assignments. Instead, I’d rather see 100% effort on assignments. A vital aspect of education is work ethic and determination—homework is simply one way to display your intrinsic motivation.
  • Homework is not intended to be “busy work.” Again, the point of homework is to assess comprehension of the skills taught in the classroom. While assignments should not frustrate you, they should challenge you. An assignment should not be mindlessly easy—it should not feel like busy work.  Again, my goal is to assess our progress in class, not bore you to tears or occupy all of your free-time.

While we, as teachers, may never persuade our students to love completing work outside of the classroom, transparency about the purpose of homework assignments is key to getting students to buy in. We should talk to students about homework practices and policies and request their feedback regarding homework frequency and level of difficulty.

Homework Time Made Easier

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Homework is simply a fact of life for today’s students. As early as kindergarten, children are bringing homework home from school. While homework has its many benefits, the majority of students would rather forget about the additional practices, projects, and papers. With such an aversion, homework time at home can be a real battle. Yet, it does not have to be. There are many tried-and-true strategies when it comes to alleviating the stress of homework.

Here are some of our favorites.

First and foremost, a key to easing homework stress is to make sure that the homework actually makes it home. Depending on your child’s age, it may be a struggle to simply keep track of the many worksheets that need to travel to and from school. Keeping your child’s work organized can make all the difference when sitting down to work. Try using a homework folder designated for nightly assignments. Use color-coded tabs or sticky notes to manage daily assignments and due dates. Staying organized is a significant start to managing the homework routine.

Set a Schedule

Set expectations by creating a homework schedule. Between the many afterschool activities and busy schedules that each family undoubtedly juggles, homework may become an afterthought. Make sure that your child knows when and where he or she should be completing homework each night. Set limits on the use of technology during homework time. Cell phones, television, and other distractions can make homework completion impossible, so it is best that these things remain off limits until homework is completed.

Break It Down

When homework has mounted to a seemingly unmanageable level, break the assignments down to avoid a mental meltdown. Especially during the middle and high school years, the amount of homework assignments can increase greatly. Staring down a mountain of papers can stress out both you and your child. If your child is unable to chunk the assignments into manageable pieces, help them out by creating an “order of importance” list. Arrange the work into a schedule based on difficulty and due date. This way, you and your child can prioritize the homework and alleviate any stress from the many assignments.

Promote Practice, Not Perfection

When it comes to difficult assignments, emphasize the importance of effort and completion, not necessarily perfection or 100% correctness. When homework becomes a frustrating tear-session for your child, explain that homework is meant to be practice. Too often, students stress over the need to answer questions and submit flawless assignments. Yes, that is the eventual goal, but homework is meant to provide practice—not display perfection. In fact, most homework assignments are intended to show the teacher whether or not students understood the content. Teachers also use homework assignments as a way to gauge the pacing of lessons or content. So, when the tears start welling, remind your child that homework is for practice.

Homework Time Made Easier

board-928381_1920

Homework is simply a fact of life for today’s students. As early as kindergarten, children are bringing homework home from school. While homework has its many benefits, the majority of students would rather forget about the additional practices, projects, and papers. With such an aversion, homework time at home can be a real battle. Yet, it does not have to be. There are many tried-and-true strategies when it comes to alleviating the stress of homework.

Here are some of our favorites.

First and foremost, a key to easing homework stress is to make sure that the homework actually makes it home. Depending on your child’s age, it may be a struggle to simply keep track of the many worksheets that need to travel to and from school. Keeping your child’s work organized can make all the difference when sitting down to work. Try using a homework folder designated for nightly assignments. Use color-coded tabs or sticky notes to manage daily assignments and due dates. Staying organized is a significant start to managing the homework routine.

Set a Schedule

Set expectations by creating a homework schedule. Between the many afterschool activities and busy schedules that each family undoubtedly juggles, homework may become an afterthought. Make sure that your child knows when and where he or she should be completing homework each night. Set limits on the use of technology during homework time. Cell phones, television, and other distractions can make homework completion impossible, so it is best that these things remain off limits until homework is completed.

Break It Down

When homework has mounted to a seemingly unmanageable level, break the assignments down to avoid a mental meltdown. Especially during the middle and high school years, the amount of homework assignments can increase greatly. Staring down a mountain of papers can stress out both you and your child. If your child is unable to chunk the assignments into manageable pieces, help them out by creating an “order of importance” list. Arrange the work into a schedule based on difficulty and due date. This way, you and your child can prioritize the homework and alleviate any stress from the many assignments.

Promote Practice, Not Perfection

When it comes to difficult assignments, emphasize the importance of effort and completion, not necessarily perfection or 100% correctness. When homework becomes a frustrating tear-session for your child, explain that homework is meant to be practice. Too often, students stress over the need to answer questions and submit flawless assignments. Yes, that is the eventual goal, but homework is meant to provide practice—not display perfection. In fact, most homework assignments are intended to show the teacher whether or not students understood the content. Teachers also use homework assignments as a way to gauge the pacing of lessons or content. So, when the tears start welling, remind your child that homework is for practice.

Building Up Self-Esteem in the Classroom

i-741519_1280Social-emotional development is a key aspect of growth for children, especially during the teenage years. Questions, conflicts, and angst revolving around one’s identity are indicative of this tempestuous stage in life. Many adolescents, if not all, struggle with building self-esteem. As educators, we have the opportunity to not only teach, but to lead by example.

I, like many adults, can personally relate to my sporadically insecure and apprehensive middle schoolers. The braces, blemishes, and all of those other lovely aspects of my own adolescent years are fresh in my mind when I stand in front of my classes—their hesitant expressions are another reminder of how hard it is to be a teenager. However, two things that can lessen the blow of adolescence are a positive outlook and a resilient self-esteem.

Methods to address the insecurities change from day to day, and vary depending on the student. Obviously, what makes one student feel comfortable and confident may not be the key for another. Even so, there are ways to make a teacher’s classroom, instruction, and demeanor more conducive to building students’ self-esteem.

Be open about your own flaws or weaknesses

For the most part, it is common for students to expect perfection and level-headedness from their teachers to a certain degree. This is evident by the fact that they are shocked and humored when we miscalculate, misspell, or misconstrue something. They are even more shocked to see us scrambling through the mall in sweats and a baseball hat on a Saturday. While mildly embarrassing to us, these somewhat amusing instances are truly beneficial to building our students’ self-esteem.

Capitalize on these opportunities by shattering the belief that perfection is the key to high self-esteem. Yes, teachers are tasked with teaching our subjects, but we are not the “almighty keepers of the knowledge.” We are human beings that have flaws and make mistakes. Embrace these blunders in the classroom—they show our students that, just like teenagers, we adults make mistakes, too. This realization that everyone makes mistakes helps students accept their own missteps and build self-esteem.

Show your true colors

Learning occurs when students take risks in the classroom. Risk-taking is also a sign of confidence and self-esteem. If we teachers are not presenting our true selves, how can we expect our students to feel comfortable enough to show their own true colors? In order to foster these themes of confidence, honesty, and authenticity in the classroom, we must truly practice what we preach.

Beware, though, that adolescents have the uncanny ability to detect phoniness. They are observant, intuitive, and critical. Therefore, it is not the easiest task for teachers to wear all of the hats and still remain authentic in the classroom. All at once, we must maintain professionalism, provide engagement, and remain enthusiastic about the lesson, while also cracking down on behaviors and managing 30+ teenagers in a room. This can be quite a tall order; however, exhibiting your own confidence in the classroom is key to encouraging your students’ self-esteem. Just as parents should model good self-esteem at home, teachers should lead by example, as well.

Explain that “this too shall pass”

Another honest conversation that teachers can have with students in order to foster self-esteem involves discussions of the future. It is easy for anyone to get caught up or discouraged by difficulties happening in the here and now. This is especially true for teenagers. Teens are developmentally prone to “sweat the small stuff.” As a teen, I remember overreacting, dramatizing, and fixating on what turned out to be tiny non-problems. Of course, hindsight is 20/20, but genuine discussions about how to look past our problems and put things into perspective will nurture a positive outlook.

As teachers, we know that personal connections can make all the difference with our students. Sharing anecdotes about my own struggles and slip-ups growing up allows me to relate to my students and relay strategies that worked versus those that didn’t quite pan out. Showing your students that you can relate to their insecurities is beneficial; showing students that you’ve shed your insecurities and built-up your self-esteem over time can be even more beneficial.

At the start of this school year, I hung two pictures outside of my classroom—my school photo from 6th grade and another from 8th grade. I don’t have to tell you that these photos are beyond embarrassing. My students know all too well that, since hormones run high and self-esteem runs low, these teenage years present plenty of challenges. By sharing your own weaknesses, exhibiting authenticity, and discussing your own fluctuations of self-esteem, teachers have the ability to lead by example and foster positive self-images in the classroom.

Uncertainty & Anxiety—LE Discusses Solutions

Uncertainty & Anxiety—LE Discusses Solutions

 

In addition to our own concerns, which include everything from our family’s health to the unstable economy, experts agree that children and teens are in an exceptionally vulnerable position where anxiety may arise and/or become exacerbated. This is a frightening notion for parents, and understandably so. To combat any anxious tendencies, families must first be aware of the potential for these feelings to emerge. In recognizing increased levels of stress and anxiety in kids, it is paramount that we first acknowledge and then talk through the issues at hand.

 

One important thing for parents to remember is that, once children begin to reach adolescence, their preferred soundboards shift from parents and guardians to their peers. Instead of relying on mom and dad for advice and support, kids tend to lean more on their close friends when dealing with issues. Of course, this only makes sense, due to the fact that our peers are the ones immersed in the daily strife and are experiencing the same or similar events from a familiar vantage point.

 

The teenage years are partly marked by the bonds and camaraderie that develop among peer groups. Therefore, the sudden and swift separation from those peer groups that Covid-19 has caused leaves adolescents feeling exceptionally vulnerable and lonely. Yes, technology allows for consistent contact for socializing—and today’s generation of teens is as savvy as ever. However, FaceTime, DM’s, and Zoom calls do not automatically fulfill the need and desire for close, face-to-face interactions and conversations with peers. Furthermore, the social sphere, whether that’s elementary, middle, or high school, has temporarily vanished, leaving kids suddenly yearning for their routines, daily interactions, typical schedules, and structures.

 

To help put anxious minds at ease, parents should be prepared to have several conversations:

  • Be aware of and acknowledge that the current situation is uncomfortable and unnerving. Kids need to feel validated in their feelings, so this is not the time to lead with, “suck it up,” “it’s not that bad,” or “others have it way worse than you.” Those statements, while potentially true, only serve to alienate your child further—again, they already feel lonely. They need to feel heard and understood now.
  • Encourage them to discuss and express their frustrations and listen. This is certainly a frustrating time for everyone, so children need to be provided with an outlet to express and release those anxious feelings.
  • Think about activities that allow your child to engage in physical activity while simultaneously having a discussion about what they’re experiencing and feeling. Dribbling the soccer ball, shooting hoops, even walking the dog or jumping on the trampoline can provide families with time to chat, while also releasing pent up energy and/or emotions.
  • Encourage virtual socializing among peers, being sure to agree upon outlets, expectations and time limits that are appropriate to the child’s age.
  • Think about having opportunities for groups of moms and daughters to have a virtual coffee date or discuss the latest episode of everyone’s favorite TV show.
  • Plan a virtual pizza party for young kids in the neighborhood if your youngster seems down or lonely.
  • Organize a Zoom call with karaoke to shake things up among friends or family.

 

The point is this: anxiety during this time, especially for kids and adolescents, can be overwhelming. Between hormonal changes and brain development, teens are practically primed to experience higher levels of stress as it is. Parents can help by acknowledging the difficulties, encouraging social connections, and validating their child’s emotions.

Self-care for Children

There has been a great deal of talk about the importance of self-care. The COVID-19 pandemic has created a great deal of stress, worry, and unease for all of us. What we don’t hear enough about, however, is how crucial self-care can be for children’s well-being. During this time that adults need to preserve their own mental health and well-being, they must also tend to their children who require the same, if not more, self-care. Like general hygiene routines, children must be instructed on how to take care of themselves—this includes emotional care, too!

 

Youngsters may initially find it difficult to actually place their feelings into a category. This is especially true in the heat of the moment. Instead of clearly articulating their feelings, kids may just lash out, cry, or shut down. When this happens, parents typically scurry to diffuse the situation quickly—rightfully so—rather than attempting an in-depth conversation about recognizing feelings before they erupt. Yet there are proactive measures that can be taken. To ease future emotional moments, try the following:

 

  • Parents can help little ones recognize and verbalize their feelings by explaining the difference between a situation that might make one angry versus scared or upset.
  • Use scenarios that relate to your child’s age and interests and speak about these experiences hypothetically. Use the word “pretend” as your term to signify each scenario as strictly practice for identifying future feelings/emotions.
  • For children that have specific social needs, visuals are helpful when teaching and discussing abstract concepts such as frustration, loneliness, etc. Consider using cartoons or emojis to help children visualize and conceptualize scenarios with particular emotions and facial expressions.
  • Parents can also encourage kids to clarify the level of emotion that they are experiencing with a rating scale of some sort. For instance, a “1” would indicate a mild level of joy, anger, sorrow, etc., while a “5” would signify an extreme level of feelings.
  • As kids get older, parents can encourage more advanced forms of expression, such as journaling, drawing, painting, photography, meditating, etc.
  • For many kids, expressing and expelling pent up emotions comes with physical activities. When children are struggling with stress, frustration, anger, etc., parents can prompt activities such as jogging, roller blading, juggling a soccer ball, kickboxing, dancing, golf, and any other sport or physical activity to release energy, center one’s focus, and mediate aggression.

 

In addition to recognizing emotional triggers, part of self-care involves removal from situations that could be emotionally toxic. Like all social-emotional skills, this comes with practice. For children, it can be especially difficult to speak up and advocate for themselves when they need a break or a breather, but this can be greatly beneficial for mental health and well-being.

 

Therefore, in addition to recognizing one’s feelings, parents will want to encourage children to speak up when they are reaching the emotional threshold. Strategies could include:

 

  • Asking teachers or other adults for a “brain break” when frustration hits. This could be as simple as taking a short walk in the hallway or getting a sip of water to cool down.
  • Creating a hand signal or code word for children who are hesitant to voice their feelings. When kids say this word or give the specific signal, parents know then that he/she needs a moment to himself.
  • Explaining to children that everyone, no matter how social or friendly they are, needs a break from the crowd sometimes. Make them feel comfortable taking that time for themselves to calm down, collect their thoughts, or just be alone for a moment.
  • Similarly, in times of stress, children can find comfort in positive self-talk. But again, this is a learned practice—parents will want to model positive self-talk to demonstrate how it works. If a child is feeling anxious about a competition or test, practice soothing self-talk strategies to boost confidence and lower anxiety. Silent mantras such as, “You will do your best!” “You worked really hard for this!” “Everyone is already proud of your accomplishments!” go a long way when pepping children up.

Talking Points for Substance Abuse

Much like the “birds and bees” talk, many parents shy away from or are unsure of where to begin the conversation about drugs and alcohol. Yes, children will get plenty of information about the risks of substance abuse in their health classes at school, but those topics are not always introduced until middle school. And as shocking as it may sound, it is important that children in the elementary age group be aware of the harmful effects of drugs, alcohol, and tobacco use. 

 

Having these conversations early can help set the foundation for open and honest communication between parents and children. Furthermore, while peers have a strong influence, parents should be the ones with the strongest influence—so these talks must start at home.

 

  • Use teachable moments to broach the subject of substance abuse. For example, when your child gets a cold, make a point to talk about how cold medicine is helpful for combatting cold symptoms, but that it can be harmful for the body if taken when unnecessary. This is also a good time to talk about how medicine should only be taken as directed, i.e., always ask a parent before taking any medicine, follow appropriate dosage instructions, use prescription medications exactly as prescribed, and do not take any medicine unless given to you by a parent, doctor, or school nurse.
  • If giving your child a daily vitamin, use this time to talk about how we cannot over do it when it comes to medicine—even the super tasty gummie vitamins can be harmful if we take more than directed. 
  • Make a point to stay involved and ask about how your child and his friends are spending their time. There is a difference between being curious and being nosy. Stay neutral in your response, reserve judgment while your child is sharing, and come from a place of compassion and understanding so that your child will feel comfortable opening up without the fear of getting in trouble.
  • Have conversations about peer pressure and how something that seems “cool” can be very uncool in the long run. Use vaping as an example of a habit that seems harmless but is actually anything but. Without scaring your child, let her know that the effects of inhaling these unknown chemicals are dangerous—just like you wouldn’t eat something if you didn’t know what it was, we should never put these flavored chemicals into our bodies just to fit in.

Use goals as leverage. For instance, if your child is very into athletics or music, talk about the logical consequences when it comes to performance and drug use. A smoker is going to get extremely winded on the soccer field, just as an intoxicated person won’t be able to follow sheet music as smoothly/clearly. Discuss the risks of underage drinking as well. Remind them that these sorts of citations or problems in school remain on their record. Colleges, hiring managers, etc., will want to see a candidate’s full background. Ask your child if the risk is worth the reward—they will never be able to say that it is when keeping their goals in mind.

What’s in a Name?

No, we are not talking Shakespeare. We are instead tackling the distasteful tendency to name-call, which is a behavior that nearly all parents and educators have to deal with at some point. In confronting this obnoxious behavior, some parents might believe that they are making a mountain out of a molehill. Some common instincts or remarks are: What’s the big deal, anyway? Everyone gets called names at times. It’s just a little harmless teasing. Follow the “sticks and stones” mindset and you’ll be fine. While these reactions to name-calling do not intend to do harm, the impact may be a different story. 

 

Intent vs. Impact

For middle and high school age groups, a teen’s level of social-emotional intelligence has matured enough to have a serious discussion about intent versus impact. This distinction helps adolescents realize that their words have power, whether they are wielding them maliciously or not. Parents and educators can help clarify this with open and honest conversations. For instance, today, we unfortunately see and hear the term “gay” being thrown around as an insult or put-down. While this is nothing new, and may be intended as a harmless joke between friends, the impact could be devastating. 

 

If you hear your teen throw terms or slurs around in jest, without snapping or placing blame, ask your child the following questions:

  • What do you mean when you call someone gay?
  • Is it a dig at or comment about their sexuality? Or are you actually outting your friend?
  • If neither of those was the intent, what statement are you inadvertently making when you use “gay” as an insult?
  • Do you think being gay warrants random insults?
  • What if your friend actually is struggling with his/her sexuality? What message are you sending him/her when you use it as a slur? 
  • Think about the LGBTQ+ community; how are your insults or jokes inadvertently hurting or putting down that entire community? Were you aware of this when you decided to name-call?

 

A predictable response from many teens is the obligatory eye-roll or a retort such as, “I was just kidding, it’s just a joke, relax.” To which a simple response might be, “A joke is meant to be funny; there is nothing funny about a slur that insults an entire group of people.” Again, the purpose of this type of dialogue is to demonstrate how “just a joke” can end up having a much greater impact, unintentional or not. Use this talk as a springboard to discuss other related issues, such as current news stories, social media posts, text chains, and any other forms of communication. In this day and age, and with everything going on in the world, children need to know that what they say (or type) can and likely will come back to haunt them in the future. Politicians, celebrities, and other adults behaving badly should not give the green light to teens to engage in nasty, bullying behavior.

 

Finally, an additional point to make when addressing this issue with adolescents is to talk openly about how their use of slurs or offensive generalizations makes them look to the people around them. When name-calling or jokingly humiliating a friend in public, people around you may not know that you are kidding. If nothing else, this is simply a bad look and may cause others to look down upon them for their crass words and behavior.

Trauma Response: Tips for Parents

Part of an educator’s job is to recognize and help mediate potential trauma that a student might be dealing with. Of course, guidance counselors are much more equipped when it comes to trauma response for children and teens, but it is still something that we unfortunately see in the classroom on a regular basis. With many students now attending classes virtually, it is more important than ever that parents also be able to recognize the signs of potential trauma and respond supportively.

 

One major takeaway for parents is to remember that every child reacts differently to trauma or traumatic experiences. Furthermore, what might be considered a traumatic event for one child may not be as significant or impactful to a sibling or close friend. Therefore, it is important for parents to really tune in to what children are experiencing, even if they seem “fine” with a recent traumatic experience or event.

 

The response to trauma can occur anytime—it might involve a bicycle accident, parent separation or divorce, loss of a beloved pet, or even a current event witnessed in the news. In the same way that kids react differently to trauma, some children experience trauma right away, while others do not show any sign of distress until a bit of time has passed. This is why it is important for parents to stay acutely aware of any emotional or behavioral changes that take place. Just because a child seems fine in the immediate aftermath, it does not mean that he or she will avoid the impact of traumatic events down the line. For some children or teens, it could be days, weeks, or months before they begin to exhibit signs of trauma. 

 

In addition to maintaining vigilance and awareness after a traumatic event, parents should also be cognizant of their own responses and reactions. De-escalation should be a parent’s immediate response. Children are very much aware of stresses in their environment, so when parents respond calmly, they tend to feel at least somewhat more at ease. This is especially true for youngsters—they tend to follow mom and dad’s lead. 

 

If a child has experienced a recent traumatic event, parents should make a point to do the following:

  • Encourage their child to express whatever emotions he might be feeling—this is not the time to hold it in or retreat. Explain that there is no shame in being sad, scared, confused, etc.
  • Answer her questions and explain the situation if she asks, but always lead with the fact that she and the family are safe and secure. Remind her that she is loved and that everything will be okay. This is the reassurance that she needs during times of high stress or instability.
  • Avoid going into unnecessary details, especially with regard to current events or news-related events. Especially for young children, news coverage and firsthand accounts can be unnecessarily scary, stress-inducing, and/or graphic. With little eyes and ears absorbing their surroundings, it’s best to turn off the news.
  • Focus on the immediate here and now. Reassure their child of his/her safety by keeping routines and messages consistent. Spend quality time together as a way to provide comfort and a sense of security.

Remind their child that, like everything else in the world, there are things we can control and things that we cannot. The best way to cope when things get difficult is to focus on what is within their control.