Teachers hold a unique position in the world of the young child, Emeritus Professor Marjory Ebbeck, University of South Australia, writes.
Outside of the family they’re the most significant and trusted adults the child knows. They provide a welcoming and secure environment and have established a trusting bond with the children they teach and care for.
Teachers will understand how important the overall wellbeing of their children is. The social/emotional welfare of children is of paramount importance. In a rapidly changing world, children will have to cope with many changes during their life and teachers need to understand how to help children develop emotionally and become resilient.
This issue of coping with disasters has been brought to the forefront by the catastrophic bushfires that have ravaged much of Australia in recent months, leaving families homeless and devastated. The loss of a secure home with its familiar surroundings and precious belongings, including comfort toys, is likely to cause great distress, even trauma, in young children. The IEUA NSW/ACT Branch recently ran an innovative online professional development course called Responding to Bushfire Trauma. It was accessed by hundreds of members.
Teachers need to be prepared to work proactively and reactively when children experience a disaster. They need to understand that trauma is a shock after some serious environmental disaster, a major family loss or other forms of disaster. A family separation can also cause trauma in some instances. The child may be experiencing extreme feelings of confusion and pain, and other negative emotions, resulting in various forms of adverse behavioural responses.
There are strategies teachers can use to build resilience in children: getting them to persist, to stay with tasks, to solve problems, develop independence and allowing them to take risks (children need to be safe, however).
Teachers must build a trusting relationship with their students. Children need to feel emotionally and physically safe. This is what a trusting relationship can provide. Always be consistent and respectful in interactions with children. Understand and accept their individual differences. Be responsive to the needs of children. Creating a bond with children takes time. Wellbeing is of prime importance. If children are happy, they will learn effectively. However, in times of disasters, children’s confidence and wellbeing may be adversely affected.
Continue to provide a predictable routine with your children. A daily routine helps to develop a sense of security. However, there will be times when flexibility is needed. In times of disaster returning to the secure base of a school or centre may help children to regain some sense of security and normality in their lives.
Very young children, infants and toddlers, however, often have their own timetable and it changes over time. Encourage the expression of feelings and make talking a part of the room practices. Listen attentively to children. This is not always easy in a busy room. However, be aware of the quiet child – often it is the children with outgoing personalities who claim most teacher attention and others can be overlooked in discussions. Children who have experienced trauma may be reluctant to express emotions and could be withdrawn.