By Cheryl Ichikawa
In the silence of nap time, the desperate sobs of a child can be heard through the walls. Her teacher talks to her in a controlled, soft voice, helping the child work through emotions that seem to leave her helpless. Together, they walk down the hall looking in the storage closets for something that the child needs to be okay. The teacher opens the closet door and gets the item the child is desperately asking for. She holds it tightly as her body relaxes and her sobs subside. Now she is able to join in the silence of nap time.
Being a teacher in a trauma-informed classroom involves the mind-frame of letting go of the idea of what should be and simply dealing with what is. It’s about seeing the child, not the behavior; understanding the motivation, not just the cause. It’s about being able to balance choice and containment. Containment (structure/routine) provides children with a feeling of safety and control, which they desperately need, while choice provides these children with an exhilarating taste of personal freedom that some of them desperately want.
I watched a child walking around in circles, using profanity as if he was talking to someone, but no one was in the area. I knelt down and said to him in a soft voice, “You are having a lot of feelings. Can you tell me what those feelings are?” “I am mad!” he exclaimed. I paused and then I asked him, “Do you want a hug?” He stopped pacing, ran over to me and grabbed me around the neck. I held him tight, hugged him and told him that I was sorry that he was so mad. I let him hug me as long as he needed and when he was ready I put him down and watched him run over to his sister and start playing as if nothing had happened.
Being trauma-informed means always approaching a situation with an understanding that something traumatic has happened to this child (or parent) and that their outburst, overwhelming sadness, or anger may have nothing to do with what is happening at this moment in time; that an action, smell, sound or conflict may have triggered a trauma that they had endured in the past.
This understanding filters how I react to situations, always looking beneath the outburst, looking for what the child needs in that moment in time. It may be a hug, kind word, or confirmation that their feelings have value. Children (and adults) need to feel safe, loved and cared for. They need to know that they matter.
The relationships we form with our children (and parents) are critical components in the work we do. Once trust is established, the learning process can begin. This is when children (and adults) begin to experience life, not just living. Being trauma-informed means embracing humanity and helping others envision a better tomorrow.
Various members of the Children Today staff contribute to these blog posts.