Help Is Here

Updated: Nov 18


Two letters ago I wrote “It'’s Not What You Think” and attempted to change the narrative around what students in the 21/22 school year are experiencing. Rather than saying that students are behind or that kids are not behaving like they should because they missed out on a normal school experience over the past two school years, I wanted to reframe the conversation to be one that is trauma-informed. Students in the 21/22 school year are similar to students with interrupted formal education (SIFE) and people who have lived through that often have experienced trauma. Framing the experience in this way creates empathy for the challenges whereas other ways that I have heard some speak about what they’re seeing from students sounds more like criticism.

In my last letter, “ACEs High,” I attempted to share that there is already research on how adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) have been linked to negative short- and long-term outcomes on physical and emotional health. ACEs are traumatic experiences and the greater the number of ACEs someone has, the greater the likelihood for future negative outcomes. The original studies that identified ACEs were published in 1998. Of course, COVID-19 did not exist in 1998 to take into consideration regarding an adverse childhood experience, but that does not make COVID-19 any less of an adverse experience for some children—particularly those who might have already had an ACEs score of three or higher.

This week I want to share some ideas regarding how to respond to trauma in order to minimize it’s impact or shorten the actual experience. It’s not enough to be able to name an experience as traumatic—we need ideas on what to do when experiencing trauma.

Let me start by telling you first about someone in my life who is a “topper.” You know the type. No matter what you say, they have a story that will top yours. If you have a kid who did something great, their kid did something even better. If you know someone famous, they know someone more famous. You get the gist. When it comes to trauma, we need to remember that even though there are certainly people who are worse off, that does not minimize or trivialize the trauma that any one person experiences. It is not a contest. Just because someone may not have had a loved one who even had COVID, let alone died from COVID, does not mean that this person did not experience trauma due to the COVID pandemic. The inability to live life in a pre-COVID manner in and of itself can be traumatic. In other words, it is unhealthy to try to rate an experience or compare the impact of an experience. Spend energy on healing rather than comparing.

Secondly, I want to say that although I have my doctorate, I am not a psychologist, psychiatrist, or medical doctor of any kind. What I am is someone who has been trained in trauma-informed practices, an educator, a mom, and a fellow human being. I am also someone who is trying to share that regardless of whether or not you have found the past two years to be traumatic, you likely (a) interact with folks who do and/or (b) you will be impacted by trauma in the future. So the suggestions that I’m sharing here are from credible sources and can be referenced when you need them even if it’s not now.

With that out of the way, let’s start with thinking about what trauma is. Specifically, the National Child Traumatic Stress Network defines trauma as, an experience for children that is “an intense event that threatens or causes harm to his or her emotional and physical well-being.” More generally, Psychology Wiki explains…

For an event to have a traumatizing effect it is not necessary that physical damage occurs. Regardless of the source of the trauma, the experience has four common traits: it was unexpected, it was psychologically overwhelming, the person was unprepared or unable to cope with it, and there was nothing the person felt they could do to prevent or mitigate it. It is thus, not the event per se that determines whether an experience is traumatic, but the subjective experience of that person.

These four common traits certainly resonate with the pandemic for many people—students or the adults in their lives:

  1. It was unexpected

  2. It was psychologically overwhelming

  3. People were unprepared or unable to cope with it

  4. People could not prevent it and may not have been able to mitigate it

The American Psychological Association’s post, “How to Cope with Traumatic Stress” (that was written six months prior to the COVID shutdown starting in March of 2020), provides several suggestions for coping with traumatic stress, stating, “The good news is that there are very effective ways to cope with and treat the stressful effects of trauma. Psychologists and other researchers have found that these actions can help:”

  • Lean on your loved ones. Identify friends or family members for support. If you feel ready to discuss the traumatic event, you might talk to them about your experience and your feelings. You can also ask loved ones to help you with household tasks or other obligations to relieve some of your daily stress.

  • Face your feelings. It’s normal to want to avoid thinking about a traumatic event. But not leaving the house, sleeping all the time, isolating yourself from loved ones, and using substances to escape reminders are not healthy ways to cope over time. Though avoidance is normal, too much of it can prolong your stress and keep you from healing. Gradually, try to ease back into a normal routine. Support from loved ones or a mental health professional can help a lot as you get back in the groove.

  • Prioritize self-care. Do your best to eat nutritious meals, get regular physical activity, and get a good night