Trauma-Informed Early Child Care and Education

July 17, 2017

If you have been in early care for a long time, you may be wondering about all the talk surrounding trauma-informed early child care. Perhaps, you are thinking, that the children within your setting are not exposed to trauma. Which then may cause you to ask, why is it important? Research tells us that one in four children are exposed to at least one traumatic event prior to kindergarten. Many behavior problems in the classroom could actually manifest because of trauma. Undesirable behavior is rooted in children not knowing how handle their feelings and emotions.

Think about it. At any point over the last year, have you said at least once that the children are not the same as they used to be? Or do you have too many children with behavior problems in your classroom? If so, this  might be because they are reacting to stress from trauma.

What is Trauma?

Trauma is a deeply distressing or disturbing experience. So what are things that are deeply distressing or disturbing to children? Examples of trauma include:

  • Loss of someone close,
  • divorce or separation,
  • car accident,
  • being hospitalized, or
  • abuse.

There are other things that could cause children toxic stress that you might not have considered. For example, poverty, neighborhood crime or violence, domestic violence, and a natural disaster can cause distress in a child. These are examples of critical moments. They are significant to a child and will impact how they act, feel, and see the world. Being aware of a child’s traumatic past can help you respond in a trauma-informed way.

How Can Children Overcome Trauma?

The universal antidote to trauma is resilience. It is important that we help children be resilient so they can bounce back and learn to cope. This is why we need trauma-informed early care and education. One key component of ensuring resilience is a strong, nurturing relationship with an adult. We can start with building positive relationships. Every child needs someone in their life that they can count on. An early care professional can be that person.

Trauma-Informed Approaches: Strategies for Building Positive Relationships with Children

  • Always use positive communication. Kneel down to the child’s eye level when you speak to him or use a calm, friendly tone when you speak. This will let him know you truly want him to be around.
  • Be aware and responsive when a child needs assistance. Children need to be challenged but not to the point of frustration. Keep an eye on children and send the message that you believe they can complete any task asked of them. However, be prepared to offer assistance if the child becomes overwhelmed. Stay especially close to children that may need more assistance, but not too close.
  • Have familiar routines so that children feel secure and know what comes next. When you do have to change the routine, let children know in advance and give them reminders.
  • Create spaces where children can be alone if they choose.
  • Talk about things that interest a child, follow their lead.
  • Take pictures of children with their favorite people or items and post those around the room or make a picture book. This will help them feel important and valued.
  • Create signals so that children know when a change is coming. This will give them a feeling of control because it allows them to finish what they were doing before the transition.
  • Teach children it is okay to be mad or sad and there are appropriate ways to show those feelings. When children are mad, let them squish playdough or pound it with their hand. If they are sad, let the child know that you are there. Tell him you understand that he feels sad. Allow him to make a choice of what he would like to do until he feels better and can join the group.

It really is all about making sure that the children know you care enough to listen. It is important that they know you are aware of their needs. Also, it is important that they know you have confidence and are a capable human being. Respect!

How do you show children respect?
 Janet Burke is the Director of Child Development Services at ChildSavers, a nonprofit organization that believes that all children can be safe, happy, healthy and ready to learn.  She manages six core programs that support this belief; Child Care Aware of Central Virginia, Child Development Training, Child Development Associate Certificate Program, Virginia Quality Central Region, Voluntary Registration for the Central Region and the Child and Adult Care Food Program.  Janet joined ChildSavers in 1992 where she has worked as a trainer, supervisor, coordinator, program manager and director.  She has been a Master Rater and Master Trainer for Virginia’s Quality and Rating Improvement System since 2007 where she was trained in the first cohort of trainers.  Along with 36 years of experience of working in early care and with early care professionals, she has a Certificate in Early Childhood and a Certificate in Supervisory and Leadership and has taken many other child development and business classes over the years. This includes being trained by the authors for CLASS, Environmental Rating Scale, Here, Now and Down the Road, MyTeachingPartner and DECA.  She holds current certifications as a CLASS Observer, CLASS Trainer, and Environmental Rating Scale. Janet is an alumnus of the Emerging Nonprofit Leaders in Richmond.