Mental Health and Well-Being Snapshot: March 2022
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Understanding Trauma and Resilience
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The importance of trauma-informed care and education

Understanding trauma and its impacts is important for all of us, as individuals, as families, and as classroom and school communities. This awareness is important so that we can reflect on circumstances, words, and actions that might bring up strong emotions or responses in ourselves and in those we love and care for. It is important as we look to foster values of caring and compassion in our larger systems; by showing compassion when met with anger, or calm in the face of volatility, we send a message to all members of our family or school community that everyone is valued.

Our students are growing up in a time in which unfortunately, there are many recent events that could be traumatizing or surface emotions connected with past adverse experiences. The losses and fear felt throughout the pandemic, the ongoing revelations around children who died at residential schools, and the recent war in Ukraine are just a few examples of the kinds of external stressors that may be impacting our kids. 

What is Trauma?

Trauma, broadly defined, is any experience that overloads someone‘s nervous system, or overwhelms someone‘s ability to cope. These can be the kinds of extreme traumatic events we might see reported on the news, events that are more commonplace but nonetheless distressing to the individual, or the kinds of stressors that are recurring and chronic, so that they build and overwhelm one‘s ability to cope over time. What‘s important is not so much the nature of the traumatic incident or adverse experience, but the individual‘s response to it. Is their ability to cope overwhelmed? If so, the stressor is likely eliciting a trauma response and may have residual impacts on that person‘s ability to cope with future stresses.

How trauma affects the brain

Research has explored the ways that trauma in childhood can impact child development. Some key findings include the understanding that trauma can result in vulnerable ways of being in the world - including hypervigilance or a subdued “numbness” that can further exacerbate the impacts of trauma by, for example, setting up retraumatizing experiences or further isolating a vulnerable child. Early traumatic experiences can create a “latent vulnerability” that may make children more susceptible to mental health problems as they grow up. Approaching challenging behaviours with a trauma-informed lens is one piece of the puzzle to help children develop protective healthy relationships and adaptive coping skills.

This short animation illustrates some common impacts of childhoood trauma and helpful responses to help children change the narrative of their past experiences.
The Importance of Resilience

Protective factors and resilience

What do we actually mean when we talk about Resilience? Simply put, resilience is the ability to bounce back from challenges and adversity. There are many attributes that make up this ability to be resilient, but here are some factors that research has found contributes to resilience:

Social competence and pro-social values



Attachment to family, to school and to learning

Problem-solving skills

Effective coping style

Positive self-image

One important understanding about resilience is that it can be developed and strengthened by the supports we put in place, the ways we navigate upsetting incidents, and the mindset we encourage. By encouraging the connections, approaches, and mindsets listed above in our teaching and parenting styles, we can contribute to the resilience-development of our students and children.

The resilience umbrella uses the metaphor of an umbrella to illustrate some of the protective factor that foster resilience. From their website:

All of these protective factors are used to increase mental well-being while risk factors, such as trauma, decrease mental well-being. The more protective factors that we have in our life, the stronger our resiliency, and the fewer risk factors affect our mental health.

It‘s important to note that there will always be challenges, but it is how you react to those setbacks that will make you a more resilient person.
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How brains develop resilience

This humorous documentary-style short video looks at the ways that our brains develop resilience. Using the metaphor of a scale, very early experiences and genetic predisposition can determine where the "fulcrum" lies and how slanted the scale already is toward positive supports or negative complications. However, there is a lot that can be done as a child grows to ensure that the positive supportive side of the scale is weighted appropriately with protective factors such as coping skills, loving relationships, and mastery of skills and learning. 
Trauma-Informed Parenting

Strengthening attachment at home

Positive attachment to a caring adult is an important factor in developing resilience. Heart-Mind Online provides these tips on how to strengthen attachment for parents: 

With young children:

Follow a child's lead

Talk openly about feelings

Resolve disagreements and repair the relationship quickly

With teenagers:

Be aware and understanding of normal changes that occur during this stage of development

Be warm and supportive

Listen well before trying to jump in with solutions

Supporting teenagers with a trauma-informed approach

Teenagers’ responses to trauma or when overwhelmed are the same responses that younger children may have, though they may look and sound different. At their core, those responses are still manifestations of a fight, flight, or freeze response. Heart-Mind Online looks at ways to approach support for teenagers using a trauma-informed lens. This includes, developing an understanding of what is happening in the brain and body when it is overwhelmed, recognizing signs of stress (such as withdrawal, distancing, or aggression), asking the right questions, and responding with empathy.

This short video outlines ways to ensure safety, foster coping skills, and demonstrate compassion when supporting teenagers. It includes the following tips:

Trauma-informed practices are beneficial for everyone.

Safety is important in relationships, communication, and the environment.

Choice is a key component of a trauma-informed approach.

Using language that invites, rather than instructs, is beneficial.

Security is cultivated in safe and empowering relationships with trusted adults and peers.

Practices to reduce stress (a main side-effect of trauma) include breathing and movement.

EASE at home

Some key protective factors include an adaptive mindset, problem solving skills, and coping skills. The Everyday Anxiety Strategies for Educators program helps students build those skills. Now, these skills can be built and reinforced at home as well, through the EASE at Home resource collection. These short exercises help children get grounded, reflect on feelings, or change unhelpful thinking patterns.

Resilience and current events

How to talk to kids about war and violence

The war in Ukraine is all over the news and social media. This and other events of extreme violence can lead to effects of "remote exposure" which can bring up feelings of grief and fear, and may be traumatizing or retraumatize those with prior traumatic experiences.

Common Sense Media has compiled some tips for discussing (or not discussing) distressing current events in age-appropriate ways with children at different ages:

Ages 2-6
Avoid discussion/exposure
Affirm your family is safe
Simplify complex ideas and move on
Distinguish between "real" and "pretend"

Ages 7-12
Wait and see - don't feel the need to raise the topic if they are unaware
Be honest and direct
Discuss sensationalism in news and media

Assume they know - but knowledge may be incomplete
Get them talking
Accept their sources, but expand their horizons and encourage critical thought
Offer hope

Ways to talk about residential schools and books to further learning

Monique Gray Smith is an Indigenous author who has written a number of books centered on themes of truth and reconciliation. She was asked about her thoughts on how to speak with children about the realities of the abuses and deaths of students at residential schools. In this short video, she gives some examples of age-appropriate language for discussing these topics with children, as well as some suggestions for books to start or further the conversation.

Additional Resources

Video - Supporting children and youth who have experienced trauma

This Kelty Mental Health Webinar recording is for parents & caregivers. You will learn what trauma is, how to talk to your child about these experiences, what you can do as a parent or caregiver to support your child at home and where to reach out for help. To see the accompanying presentation slides, click here.

Podcast - The importance of play in developing resilience

Increasingly, researchers are discovering how vital play is to healthy child development in so many areas. Significantly, research is showing that play can foster important factors for resilience, including coping skills, problem solving, and the most crucial of all - strong supportive relationships.  This podcast from the Centre on the Developing Child at Harvard discusses the importance of play and how to incorporate play into different environments to foster resilience.

More resources to provide age-appropriate support for children concerned about the war in Ukraine

Resilience in a time of war: Tips for parents and teachers of elementary school children: This article from the American Psychological Association can help adults guide their young children beyond fear and to resilience.

Resilience in a time of war: Tips for parents and teachers of middle school children: The American Psychological Association breaks out tips and strategies for parents and teachers of middle school-aged children.

National Child Traumatic Stress Network provides excellent strategies for parents and teachers on how to approach the topic with students. There are great reminders about limiting media exposure and providing students with ways to express their concern that are positive and provided a sense of agency without causing more harm or stress. 

SD63's Mental Wellness Hub updated every month

This site compiles both local and online mental health and wellness resources for families and educators, and is updated monthly with new resources.
SD63's Mental Wellness Hub