By Cheryl Ichikawa
With each new child that enters our program comes a story. A story about who they are, where they came from and all their experiences, good and bad. As a teacher at Children Today, I understand that trauma is part of their story and that a child’s development may be delayed or altered due to stress, anxiety or fears associated with the experiences they have had in their life.
In Dora’s blog post, Regression, she talks about how children can regress (returning to an earlier stage of behavior and physical development) from a traumatic event or prolonged exposure to stress or anxiety. She explains that “regression in children experiencing homelessness can be extreme and long-lasting.”
Being mindful of this fact means that on any given day a child might need more support, more individualized attention or more space than usual. Building a trusting and unconditional relationship with these children allows us to support them and for them to feel safe even when they are grappling with their own emotions.
As a teacher, observations are critical, not only in supporting children in their development, but in understanding their triggers. For some of our children, personal containment is a challenge which can create stress among the other children in the classroom. In the article, “Children and Trauma: The Role of Parents” written by Marsha L. Shelov, Ph.D., she highlights the fact that “mild or severe, a traumatically frightening event matters deeply to a child” and that even if parents choose to forget, “the child remembers.” She talks about the fact that the child needs to remember this life-changing event because it is a necessary part of the child’s healing process. She explains that in order for a child to heal, he or she must learn how to cope with the event and his or her feelings about what happened.
This understanding is critical. Children act out for a reason. Some children act out due to boredom, a need for attention, a desire to test limits, hunger, exhaustion or their excitement in learning something new. However, other children act out for a much deeper reason that even they may not fully understand. We had a little girl that had the sweetest smile, but also a volatile temper. She could be handing a child a toy one moment and then turn around and bite that same child the next. She would often say, “Stop hurting me” or “You hurt me,” whether the teacher was setting a limit, changing her diaper, or laying her down for a nap. She also did not discriminate and said this to several teachers in a variety of situations. In every case, teachers would state to the child what they were doing or intended to do and would assure her that they were not hurting her.
By prescribing to a philosophy of caring, understanding and positive reinforcement, our goal is to support all of our children in their physical, cognitive, social and emotional development. By providing children with opportunities to deal with conflict, and guidance in understanding their options, they learn how to manage their impulses. By allowing them to be more independent they learn to trust themselves and build their self-esteem. But most importantly, creating an environment that allows children who struggle with their emotions the opportunity to express their anger, sadness or frustration with the support of someone who cares, can be life-changing.
The greatest gift that a caregiver (parent or teacher) gives to a child coping with trauma is seeing their sadness instead of simply responding to their behavior. It is allowing the child to express their emotions uninterrupted (within a zone of safety), yet always letting the child know that you are there to help them when they are ready. For a child to know that their feelings matter… that they matter… is powerful.
By Dora Jacildo
When I joined the staff of Children Today, one of the first things that caught my attention was the number of preschool-age children with obvious language delays and who were still in diapers. My first conclusion was that they perhaps were experiencing developmental delays as a result of lack of exposure to rich language and toilet training opportunities, or other undiagnosed issues. I soon learned from speaking with parents and caregivers that many of these children had language and were toilet-trained prior to becoming homeless.
Regression is the act of returning to an earlier stage of behavior or physical development. Exposure to trauma, whether it’s one traumatic experience, or a more prolonged exposure to stress, can result in the loss of acquired developmental skills, especially in language and toilet training. Other typical characteristics of regression include separation anxiety, fear of the dark, fear of strangers, and the inability to sleep by his or herself. Many of these expressions happen when children have overwhelming anxiety or stress.
While it is not uncommon to see a typically developing child regress to earlier stages of development (bed-wetting, sleep problems, unexplained fears), children are especially likely to regress if they have anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress, or depression.
We have learned that the best way to address regression in children experiencing the traumatic effects of homelessness, which can be extreme and long-lasting, is to have the children evaluated and support the staff and parents in implementing strategies to help children deal with stress. We have surrounded ourselves with very talented community partners that on a regular basis conduct speech assessments or developmental and mental health screenings at our facilities, enabling both staff and parents to learn intervention skills that can be readily applied.
These strategies and interventions have taken us years to develop. However, the most important lesson I learned during the first weeks on the job, was that my role was to protect children from situations that are over-stimulating and frightening and to do all I could to restore a sense of safety in the world, even if it was just during our hours of operation.
By Cheryl Ichikawa
In the toddler class at the Play House West we do many different gross and fine motor projects, which helps us prepare for future activities like reading and writing, building and creating, and more organized play and sports. Art is a wonderful way to practice different gross and fine motor skills and movements like holding a paint brush, swatting a canvas with a paint covered fly swatter, working with watercolors, squeezing colored glue onto a canvas, or one of our favorites, dot painting.
Art is also a wonderful way of incorporating a variety of different skills into one activity (cognitive, sensory, social, emotional, etc.) It allows children to focus on an open-ended task that is determined by them. They have the freedom to choose what, where, when, how and why. In the process they have created some beautiful artwork which we have displayed in our classroom.
Gross Motor Artwork
Getting messy is what toddlers do best. At Play House West, we try to do it in style and with a purpose. Here, our toddlers are using their senses, keen eye and swatting abilities to create some beautiful artwork which will be creatively displayed in our outdoor patio area.
Painting is not only fun, but a way for children to express themselves, work independently or together, and learn about cause and effect (observing what happens when paint is swatted… the way the paint “splats” when it is swatted, the pattern that is created by the fly swatter and how colors change when they are mixed together.
Here is some of the artwork we created, artfully displayed in the toddler patio.
Fine Motor Artwork
Painting with watercolors is a wonderful way for toddlers to practice using their fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination. While some toddlers are very carefree with their brushstrokes, others are more deliberate.
Dot painting is another activity that our toddlers enjoy. This child takes special care and concentration in dot placement and technique. Along with talking about the different colors and shapes of the dots, we also incorporate math into the activity by counting how many many red dots, blue dots, etc., there are.
Art provides the children a sense of freedom. And in the process, they are learning so many new things!
Various members of the Children Today staff contribute to these blog posts.