Caring for kids’ basic needs

2019-05-21 06:01

Teachers from Retreat, Lavender Hill, Seawinds and the surrounds are learning how to create a safe classroom environment so that children can become ready to learn.

Clinical social worker Claudia Roodt is looking to empower the communities of the south, and 1000 teachers from these communities who are ready to be the change agents that are needed.

The teachers, who will do the trauma-informed care course, are taking on the responsibility of becoming knowledgeable about the effects that trauma has on young children and how these experiences manifest themselves in their behaviour at school.

Trauma can occur in the form of abuse, neglect, dysfunction and even divorce.

To determine the level of trauma that has been experienced, Roodt uses the Adverse Childhood Experiences (Ace) test, which tallies up the number of traumatic events that a person has experienced to assess their health risks and the trauma experienced.

Unfortunately, these issues are seldomly addressed or talked about among families and so bad behaviour is usually attributed to upbringing and other influences.

The theory behind the teaching is that a person who has experienced trauma will have a nervous system that is always on high alert and as a result, the learning and reasoning parts of the brain will shut down to cope with the toxic stress.

“We cannot assume children are ready for learning. Children with brains on high alert cannot learn,” Roodt explained.

This is because the brain begins to operate in “survival mode” which takes place in the part of the brain that has no pause and cannot regulate emotion and response.

So, Roodt encouraged the eight woman at the course on Wednesday 15 May to consider this question before responding to unruly or unresponsive learners: “What is this child’s behaviour communicating to you right now and what in this environment is triggering the child to act this way?”

Trauma-informed schools are built on three pillars: creating safety, connection and then emotional regulation.

She encouraged them to consider a response that reflects understanding and compassion rather than punishment. “Children’s nervous systems need to be assisted to calm down in order to feel safe. Only then can we build connection,” she said.

By building healthy relationships the teachers are able to offer learners a safe space to express themselves and trust the teachers, which leads to better respect for the teacher, better listening in class and better responses.

Often these children don’t understand their own behaviour and so it is the task of the educator or caregiver to connect with them and make them feel safe enough to open up. “In class, when a child is acting out, we tell them to act their age but we may not realise that this small person is dealing with very big emotions that they can’t process,” she said.

The advice that she offered was also to invite the learners’ parents to open days or fun days in order to build relationships with them that will allow for the entire family’s trauma to be identified and dealt with.

Ricolette Borens, a teacher in Lavender Hill, said that she as a member of the community swears by building relationships with the families of her learners. It has helped her to empower learners, but it can be difficult because parents usually don’t feel that the teacher is the appropriate person to address personal issues in the family with them. “Schools need to become brain aligned – they are not,” Roodt said.

Creating trauma-informed schools is the first step that Roodt and the teachers are taking to build a community that is well-educated and healed from the trauma they have experienced from gang-violence, abuse, addiction and more, which is often experienced in their homes.

The Ace test is used by health professionals around the world to assess personal health and safety risk factors of patients.

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